Type 26 GCS - CSC

The CSC: Canada’s ‘Frankenship’?

Procrustes, 6 February 2021

As more details slowly emerge from the bowels of the Ottawa defence mandarinate about the rising costs and technological challenges of the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) project, one may be struck by the apparent parallels with some of the ambitious warship construction fiascoes south of the border.

A lengthy article entitled, “The U.S. Navy’s Titanium ‘Tin Can,’” Mark Thompson outlined just how badly awry the US Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyer program has gone.[1] His is an engrossing story of how overweening navy ambition for the latest and greatest technology, blithe disregard for, and obfuscation of, costs, the crass over-selling of the capabilities of the ship, and the absence of effective mechanisms of accountability have combined to lead to a large waste of funds and, ultimately, to the operational denouement of the warship itself.

Beginning to sound familiar? From the outset, Canadian navy planners, aided and abetted by a shipbuilding sector determined to return to the ‘Big Leagues,’ have proceeded to cram as much of the latest technological wizardry into an originally appealing UK Type-26 design, all without serious attention to the real development costs and attendant risks of new and untested systems to the CSC project as a whole. Only recently, under the anticipated scrutiny of Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) and the Auditor General of Canada, has concern begun to focus on how this largely unfettered design process may lead Canada into its own ‘Frankenship’ quagmire.

Delivery of the first of the proposed new warships has now slipped from the mid-2020s into the early 2030s. Commentators are already speculating about how Ottawa may have to re-shape the CSC project – by delays, severely reduced performance capabilities, or reduced numbers – to keep the project on track politically. Some trade-offs are now acknowledged to be inevitable. For example, planners may decide to eliminate the most risky and expensive advanced technologies from a first batch of CSC ships to reduce costs. But this is an old dodge, because these same planners will be immediately pressing the government for additional funds to re-incorporate the jettisoned technologies in these early ships. The net result would be no real cost savings.

One may wonder what these planners were thinking. For example, recently a CSC Project Management official gushed that the CSC was so advanced that the navy expects to be still developing the design of the vital Combat Management System (CMS 330) – the system which ties together all the other sensor, communications, and weapons components – even after construction work has begun on the structure of the first ship.[2] This is more than a little worrisome. It is axiomatic in a major procurement project that the final design is frozen against further changes before production begins in order to prevent costly knock-on alterations to other ship components and structures later on.

Of course, by the time Ottawa finally approves the CSC and the project gets underway, those bureaucrats who were responsible for the design over-reach and costly delays they caused will have long since moved on to new positions or will have retired. In short, they will escape any accountability for their actions.

Can we now muse that the CSC is well on the way to supplanting the Avro Arrow, the EH-101 helicopter, and perhaps the F-18 replacement for the accolade as Canada’s worst-ever major defence procurement project? What illustrious company that could prove to be!

Notes

1. Mark Thompson,"The U.S. Navy's Titanium 'Tin Can'", pogo.org, (10 January 2019). Accessed at: https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2019/01/the-u-s-navys-titanium-tin-can/

2. Cdr Andrew Sargeant, “The Canadian Surface Combatant – Starting a New Conversation on Canada’s Major Warship Replacement Project”, Maritime Engineering Journal, No. 93 (Summer 2020), 20.

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