You ‘Do the Math’ and see what Future Fleet Plans will cost.

Here is a ‘brain teaser’ to wrestle with over the Holidays!

A recent article in the U.S. press described three different theoretical future fleet plans for the USN.  One fleet was designed for major naval warfare against a peer competitor; one was principally designed for inshore constabulary work and humanitarian assistance; and the third was a hybrid fleet.  While the numbers of various types of ships in this hypothetical argument have been described as “ludicrous”, the idea of setting options within a costing formula is a worthwhile exercise.

The fleet options in the article assumed the following unit costs for different types of ships (each):

  • nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at $5 B;
  • big-deck amphibious helicopter carrier at $2.5 B;
  • nuclear-powered submarine at $2.5 billion;
  • amphibious landing ship with a well deck at $1 B;
  • cruiser or destroyer at $1 B;
  • corvette of the Littoral Combat Ship type at $500 M;
  • patrol craft at $100 M;
  • riverine squadron (eight patrol boats) at $100 M; and;
  • auxiliary (replenishment, or any other kind) at $500 M.

While you can quibble about the accuracy of the numbers, this makes an interesting starting point for developing cost options for fleets of different types.  To make this list relevant to Canadians the following units must be added (based on some rough and rounded-off estimates):

  • frigate at $750 million;
  • joint support ship at $700 million;
  • conventionally-powered submarine at $400 million; and
  • arctic offshore patrol vessel at $350 million.

Using these numbers, the replacement value of the major units of the existing Canadian fleet amounts to $15.6 B:

  • Four destroyers - $4 B (being charitable, the one sunk as a target will be replaced!);
  • Twelve frigates - $9 B;
  • Four conventional submarines – 1.6 B; and
  • Two fleet replenishment ships (auxiliaries) - $1.0 B.

So, what fleet plans are possible within that amount? (For simplicity, assume that each existing unit would be replaced on a one-for-one basis.  Assume also that costs remain steady over time.  Ignore for the moment the issues of supporting infrastructure and personnel.)

Here, generally, is what the navy has on its ‘wish list’:

  • Four destroyers - $4 B;
  • Two amphibious landing ships with well decks - $2 B;
  • Three joint support ships - $2.1 B;
  • Eight arctic offshore patrol vessels – $2.8 B; and
  • Twelve frigates - $9 B.

The total for this plan amounts to $19.9 B; $4.5 B has to be removed from the list or more money has got to be found! (This is where the fun starts.)

Remember that Canada has two major naval bases, one on either coast.  So, if you plan to have the same type of ship operating on each coast, round numbers work better than even ones (although the joint support ship plan cuts the number of ‘standby units’ to only one).

Pretend that no more money is available and that the unit costs cannot be reduced. Pretend also that cost will not be affected by a decision to build in Canada or purchase offshore.  What would you recommend to Cabinet if you had the influence and the nerve to speak up?