USN FFG_X frigate

Consider the Challenges of Changing the CSC Course

By Barnacle Bill, 12 January 2024

(Although I appear to be responding to Dr. Middlemiss's post, I want to create a new post for what follows. Having seen/heard too many people call for a change in course for the CSC program, I believe that the 'option' outlined below deserves more scrutiny, which is best accomplished in a separate post.)  

In his recent post on CSC updates (or lack thereof), Dan Middlemiss cited John Ivison's op-ed in the National Post (10 Jan) in which the journalist castigated the Government of Canada for a lack of progress on shipbuilding. Towards the end of the article, Mr. Ivison added his name to a growing chorus of observers suggesting that Canada should consider building an initial batch of CSCs, then cut its losses and acquire the FFG-62 Constellation class, the unit costs of which appear to be much lower.

I know not what factors contributed to the agreed unit costs for the first four 'Connies' that the USN has contracted for. Perhaps the first four will embark lots of government-furnished equipment that is not captured in the project costs. Perhaps the latter does not include ordnance, infrastructure, or other things that may be captured in the CSC project costs. The point is that one should not assume that the Americans are doing it better before one tallies up what's included in the two different projects.

But if we assume that the USN is indeed building capability and managing costs better than we are, what then? Per Mr. Ivison's recommendation, can we assume that if Canada were to alter course and adopt the FFG-62, we would achieve better outcomes?

What would such a buy look like? Would the government insist that the assembly be done here in Canada? Is there a yard (other than ISI) that could tool up and execute the new work order at relatively short notice? At what cost compared to a US yard? Would the government/RCN insist on customizing the design, and at what cost? Or would decision-makers be willing to run afoul of domestic political and industrial constituencies and place the notional buy outside the NSS, thereby opening the way for us to accept the design as -- is (i.e., no modifications, little/no Canadian content), and have it produced down south under US labour rates?

It would be worthwhile to consider that the US shipbuilding workforce is stretched, and that Fincantieri USA is having to pull out all the stops to keep the FFG-62 schedule on track. (This mirrors the challenges that American submarine builders are having -- trying to build a minimum of 2 Virginia-class boats per year AND supply the same to Australia under the AUKUS agreement.) The firm's three Wisconsin yards are short of staff and so it is bringing in new technology -- welding robots -- to increase productivity. This article from Defense News observes that although the USN has the option of purchasing the technical data package from the Italian parent -- which would allow a second shipyard to participate in the build -- that request has not yet been made, likely because of labour shortages. []

This latter point suggests that any request by Canada to build the FFG-62 in the US would be rebuffed due to a lack of yard capacity. (Any additional capacity would first be taken up by USN orders.) We'd have to do the work ourselves, which means further delays and all the temptations/risks of requirements-creep, fulfilling ITB obligations, etc.

I fear that this 'option' is not much of an option when probing questions are asked. However much the FFG-62 might better suit our needs, we'd fall even further behind in our drive to replace the Halifax class.

So, let the dissenters either be brutally honest about our ability/willingness to piggy-back on USN programs, or let them cease trying to make a case for switching horses mid-race.


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