Has Canada Lost the Ability to Design Warships?

[Moderator’s Note.  This commentary was originally published on Tuesday, 15 March 2011 on David Pugliese’s Defence Watch.  It is reproduced here with the permission of Mr. Pugliese.]

Long-time Defence Watch (DW) reader “Chief Naval Constructor” posted material yesterday that I thought raised some interesting issues about the ability of this country to design its own ships. He was responding to DW reader “Bazza” who raised some issues in an earlier posting and concerns about ship designs. Here is what Chief Naval Constructor writes:

“Bazza, it is suggested the reason why only three have commented on your article is because there are so few knowledgeable and experienced ‘project’ multi-discipline ship systems integration engineering ‘designers’ [led by a qualified post-graduate trained and experienced ‘senior’ Naval Architect] as well as ‘ship project’ managers still active in Canada.  As a direct result, a similar situation exists with respect to shipbuilders and shipyards, in fact traditionally the Crown’s procurement authority and shipbuilders depend upon former Naval Engineering members providing services as Procurement Officers, Naval Overseers/QARs, designers, managers et cetera.”

“As CMS Admiral McFadden stated recently, he does not have the hundreds of technically trained bodies to fill the project team of one major ship project let alone several projects implemented during the same time frame.  He could have also pointed out even if he did; ‘none’ of them would have previous ‘project’ experience and certainly no experienced ship ‘project mentors’ to lead and direct.  This situation can only be resolved by the solution proposed by an astute and experienced WWII Naval Engineering Captain (RCN) Harrison during 1948: with across the board ship design and shipbuilder technology transferred from the UK at the time [including hundreds of experienced ‘designers’ and ‘ship builders’].”

“The rise and fall of Canada's world class ship design, marine industrial & shipbuilding lasted three decades 1948 – 1978, ending with the unexpected, and never explained 28 June 1976 decision by the Navy’s ‘design authority’ DGMEM (Director General Maritime Engineering & Maintenance) to disband what was by then essentially a ‘Canadian’ and, arguably the world’s best, frigate/destroyer & naval auxiliary in-house design team of about 36 multi-disciplined naval engineers, just after they had completed the commissioning of the world’s first all gas turbine DDH 280-class of TG destroyers [‘lead’ ship Iroquois launched 1972] as well as the CPF Preliminary Design and Technical Statement of Requirements (TSOR) under the leadership of Canada’s last Head of Projects Definition, Captain Dale Roushorn, equivalent to what was in 1948 the Director of Naval Construction, formed and led during 1948-56 by Commodore (RCNVR) Sir Roland ‘Rollie’ Baker RCNC (Royal Corps of Naval Constructors).”

“This priceless ‘Canadian’ ship acquisition capability, capacity and corporate memory have now all but disappeared to the point where Canada has not been able to produce a pragmatic TSOR to an operational SOR since about 1986. This was again very evident with the first JSS Project [2005-2008]. For the record, it is submitted that in order to be ensured of producing a pragmatic SOR & TSOR, Canada must have at its disposal an experienced Projects Definition project ship systems engineering ‘team’ at the level of the 1950-76 in-house design team.”

“Before a TSOR can be reasonably certain to be ready for released to industry through a PWGSC Request for Proposals (RFP), the following increasingly detailed and complex swings around the ‘design spiral’ must be completed to the satisfaction of an experienced Naval Architect [Chief Naval Constructor level]:

  • Concept Design (CD);
  • Demonstration Design (DD);
  • Preliminary Design (PD); and, finally,
  • Contract Design [CD].

The CD Technical Data Package (TDP) of Specifications & Drawings constitutes the Statement of Work (SOW) attached to the RFP for release to industry. The resultant winning shipbuilder will have to engage a design house, preferably with proven international experience, to do a Design ‘Check’ to be followed by the development of the Detailed Design & Production TDPs.”

“The Shipbuilder will have to convince the Crown’s Ship Project Management Office (PMO) the Detail Design has been ‘Canadianized’ to ensure Canada’s world class In-Service Support requirements are satisfied and that Canada continues to be the only navy in the world interoperable with a USN Carrier Task Group. This is not a trivial exercise as the combined value of the two National Ship Procurement Strategy (NSPS) shipbuilder contracts are worth some $35B and a modern 7,000-ton Canadian Surface Combatant will represent one of the more complex design projects on the planet.”

“WRT your two main concerns, the following is offered for your consideration:

  • It is understood the Crown intends to negotiate an Umbrella Agreement (UA) with each of the two successful Combatant & Non-Combatant shipbuilders. No doubt a primary UA requirement involves the negotiation of a class design.
  • For the JSS ACAN, a Transfer of Technology deliverable is included, though it makes more sense that it be tailored to whatever shipyard wins the Non-Combatant contract and that it is done as part of the post-selection Functional Design phase.
  • And no, BMT Ottawa, as the Navy’s Definition, Engineering, Logistics and Management Support (DELMS) contractor, cannot have a direct relationship with the NSPS shipbuilders as it would constitute a conflict of interest, at least not until the two NSPS shipbuilders are under contract with the Crown. All due respect to BMT, they have yet to compete a project whereby their TSOR/SOW [as a result of a Project Definition design] was used. Further, to my knowledge they are not in the Detail Design and shipyard Production Design TDP business.”

“As noted from NSPS Q&A 27:

“It is envisioned that ship designers will participate (directly or as part of a team) in the design phase of the ships to be built by the selected shipyards. It is anticipated that under the NSPS, a “design-then-build” approach will further reduce lead-time to construction and increase pricing fidelity. Subject to certain restrictions to avoid conflict of interest, designers may also be involved in the detailed design and the production design of these ships.” And yes it is a challenge, but it is submitted it is the responsibility of the shipbuilders to indicate to the Crown in their RFP Proposals they “have compatible, harmonious, effective and profitable relationships with the ship designers the Government expects them to work with”.”

“Since the NSPS RFPs were released 7 Feb there appears to be a concerted effort in almost daily articles emanating out of Halifax through this DW forum as well as the Canadian Press and the Chronicle Herald to convince all that Canada still has the ship design capability and capacity; that complex ships should be designed in Canada and that there was somehow a NSPS requirement to both design and build the ships in Canada.”

Chief Naval Constructor then goes on to highlight the comments from Peter Cairns in a recent Canadian Press newspaper article:

“Peter Cairns, of the Shipbuilding Association of Canada, said it’s the second time Ottawa has looked offshore for designs. That runs contrary to the Conservatives’ national shipbuilding strategy, which pledged to design and build military and government ships in Canada. “I would encourage them to do their own design,” Cairns said. “I’m very concerned that the Canadian government under the guise of short-term budget gain (will) throw the baby out with the bath water.””

Chief Naval Constructor then concludes:

“All due respect but, as noted above, the baby has already been thrown out with the bath water.  It is difficult to comprehend why Cairns is not separating ‘design and build’. The NSPS was never about anything but a shipyard-focused ‘build’ effort.”