Comment about ‘Time to worry about our warships’

By Dan Middlemiss, 19 October, 2023

An interesting article was just published about the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC).[i] The author, Philippe Lagassé, is a well-respected Canadian academic with a long-time interest in Canadian defence matters. Moreover, Dr. Lagassé served as a member of the little known Independent Review Panel for Defence Acquisition (2015-2022) and in that capacity was responsible for reviewing the requirements for the CSC.

       Dr. Lagassé addresses several issues relating to the CSC project, and acknowledges that important questions have arisen about the schedule, costs and capabilities of Canada’s new frigates.

       Lagassé suggests that knowledgeable observers have pointed out that there are other, highly capable warships available that cost far less than $5.6 billion per ship (his figure), and admits that there is far more than requirements driving up the CSC costs, most notably the decisions to re-establish a domestic military shipbuilding industry and to build the new warships in Canada. These decisions, he says, have probably increased the costs of the ships by roughly 30 per cent.

       He then touches briefly on the now familiar reasons why it has taken so long for Canada to get started on the CSC: setting up the National Shipbuilding Strategy; shipyards reacquiring skilled workers and creating the necessary infrastructure; and refining the requirements for the CSC while the Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships were being built.

       He asks whether Canadian defence planners were “too cavalier in their requirements

and design modifications?” His answer: “Maybe.” However he contends that these same planners were trying to foresee capabilities for a warship that the navy will likely be operating until 2100 and perhaps beyond.

       Lagassé states candidly that “Doubts about the CSC are going to keep multiplying. The per unit costs can only increase so much before people start seriously discussing reducing how many of them will be built. You can be sure that some within government are already asking ‘Why 15? Why not 12?’” For Lagassé, the real question facing Canadians and their government is not why we are not buying cheaper ships, but whether we are “prepared to accept less capability to cut costs”.

       Lagassé also suggests that serious concerns are also being raised about the capacity of Canada’s defence budget to maintain the warships, keep them technologically upgraded in future years, and whether the RCN will be able to recruit enough sailors to operate the ships once they are constructed.

       Lagassé concludes with the following recommendations: “To address these concerns, the government must let DND/CAF better explain what the CSC is designed to do and why it needs to do it. Simply telling Canadians that it’s the right ship isn’t enough when it’s easy to point to lower-cost alternatives. As well, the government needs to be far more transparent about estimates of costs and what’s driving them. Political and public support for the CSC shouldn’t be taken for granted, and growing concerns about the program can’t be simply brushed away.”

[i]. Philippe Lagassé, “Time to worry about our warships,” The Line, 17 October 2023. Accessed at:


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