NSS – Needed: More Facts – Less Hyperbole

By Les Mader, 9 August 2022

From its initial appearance, the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) and the warships that it is producing have generated a great deal of public comment.  Some have been informed and helpful, such as Andrew Kendrick’s sobering analysis which was brought to the Forum’s attention on 27 July 2022.  Other commentaries have been overtaken by events1or have bordered on conspiracy theories.  Still others have been hyperbolic. 

For example, in 2007, eight years before the first steel was cut for the Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS), Jack Layton – then-leader of the New Democratic Party – denounced them as “slushbreakers.”2  The lack of knowledge behind this comment has been shown clearly by the passage of time.  Despite this fact, as at 30 July 2022, it was still found in the Wikipedia article on the Harry DeWolf Class AOPS. 

Additionally, again as of 30 July 2022, the same article still contained the following text, which is based on a 2013 article by Terry Milewski: 

In May, the CBC revealed that the projected cost of the design phase of the project was many times what other countries paid for similar ships based on the same Norwegian class for design, construction, and full-up operational deployment of multiple ships. … The projected design cost of the ship class is $288 million, … The Norwegians spent less than $100 million for the initial design and construction of the vessel in 2002. Denmark built two ships for $105 million in 2007, and Ireland did the same for $125 million.3 

Some of the ideas in the Milewski article continue to be used in various places, including recently in Canadian Naval Review itself, to attack the AOPS and the larger NSS.  Even Mr Kendrick uses the $100M cost for the Svalbard in his article, sometimes appropriately, but other times – indirectly – seemingly to support his contention that Canada is overpaying for the ships that the NSS is producing. 

All of this is disappointing since the costs of the Svalbard, the Danish ships (likely the Knud Rasmussen class4) and the Irish ships (likely the Samuel Beckett class5) are little relevant to current discussions about our AOPS, given that the price for the Svalbard is from 20 years ago while those for the Irish and Danish ships are some 12 and 15 years, respectively, in the past.  Equally important, these latter four ships have only one-third of the displacement of the AOPS and cannot support extended helicopter operations and do not have the AOPS’ autonomy.   

Additionally, the Irish ships are not ice-capable, while the Danish ones can only operate in 40 centimetres of sea ice – one-third of the AOPS requirement.  Also it is not clear to me, despite an Internet search, that Svalbard could meet the autonomy, hot climate operations, and Arctic Ocean pollution-mitigation requirements that the AOPS must.  Surely, if we are going to compare NSS ships to other vessels, let’s compare like-for-like or at least state where the comparisons are weak. 

It is very clear that the NSS is currently unable to deliver the required ships in a timely fashion.  Action is required to correct the NSS’ course.  However, every easily-refuted hyperbolic comment about the NSS undermines the credibility of those who point out its actual shortcomings and makes it easy for others to argue that it should be ‘steady as she goes’ with respect to the NSS.  Thus, it would be very helpful if the critics of the NSS stuck to providing clear expositions of where it is failing and offering helpful, practical suggestions about how to give the navy the ships it needs in a timely fashion. 

Hyperbole may make for good ‘click bait’ and ‘sound bites’ but will not identify or advance the required solutions. 

Notes

[1]   CBC News, “Arctic patrol plan headed for ‘disaster,’ says report,” April 11, 2013.  Arctic patrol ship plan headed for 'disaster,' says report | CBC News

[2]  Canadian Press, “Canada should do more to protect Arctic sovereignty: Layton,” Aug 6 2007.  Canada should do more to protect Arctic sovereignty: Layton | CBC News

[3]  Terry Milewski, “Shipbuilding contract holds $250M mystery,” CBC News, May 02, 2013.  Shipbuilding contract holds $250M mystery | CBC News

[4]   “Knud Rasmussen-Class Ocean Patrol Vessels,” Naval Technology.  Knud Rasmussen-Class Ocean Patrol Vessels - Naval Technology (naval-technology.com)

[5]  “Samuel Beckett Class Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs),” Naval Technology.  Samuel Beckett Class Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) (naval-technology.com)

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