The DND Response to the PBO Supply Ships Cost Comparison

Procrustes, 22 November 2020.

Following the Parliamentary Budget Office’s (PBO) release on 17 November of its cost analysis of the government’s Joint Support Ship (JSS) program, DND immediately issued a statement [1] basically saying the Department did not misjudge the cost of its planned JSS from Seaspan.

This is depressing news. I think it would have been more understandable to have misjudged the overall $4.1 billion price-tag, than leaving open the inference that it is still willing to accept such grossly over-priced supply ships – and ships that are based on a more than 25-year old German design. Clearly cheaper options are available, even in Canada, as Davie has ably demonstrated with its Asterix supply ship.

And while it may be true that Asterix lacks some of the ‘Canadianized’ add-on capability features, it is also true that Seaspan’s JSS will not meet the basic NATO standard for a minimum four RAS replenishment masts – a basic deficiency which the DND press release conveniently neglects to mention. The JSS will only have two of these RAS stations, which will greatly limit its underway supply capabilities. These stations will presumably be more useful to what, in both cases, are essentially floating gas cans, than will the navy’s concern to require the JSS to have war-fighting systems such as close-in and other air defence systems, as well as other advanced battle management and cyber-security technologies. Basic rule of thumb – gas cans should stay far away from actual things that go bang!

One other notable point of comparison. Through the 2018-2020 period, Asterix has already exceeded its stipulated operational days at sea by a wide margin. On the other hand, Seaspan’s first JSS won’t even be ready for service until 2023 at the earliest, while the second is expected in 2025. In the meantime, Asterix has participated in numerous international exercises, and has conducted many operational refuelings.

Conclusion? Canada’s ponderously slow NSS procurement system just keeps on s-l-o-w-l-y chugging in order to keep our domestic shipyards happy. Meanwhile, the navy waits ... and the taxpayer pays.

Reference:

  1. Ottawa, Department of National Defence, “Statement by the Department of National Defence on the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s Report on the Joint Support Ships,” 17 November 2020, Accessed at: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/news/2020/11/statement-by-the-department-of-national-defence-on-the-parliamentary-budget-officers-report-on-the-joint-support-ships.html
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