OTTAWA — Canada’s Defence Department expects to select a design for its new supply ship fleet next year, but it is still deciding whether to add a third vessel to the procurement.
The Royal Canadian Navy plans to buy two Joint Support Ships (JSS), which will be capable of conducting at-sea replenishment of warships, as well as provide sealift. The JSS procurement is estimated to cost 2.6 billion Canadian dollars ($2.2 billion). The purchase of a third JSS would be considered if funding is available.
The Navy will have two designs to pick from: BMT Fleet Technology of Ottawa is developing a new design while ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems Canada, also of Ottawa, is offering its existing Berlin-class design.
“In 2013, the Department of National Defence will choose the design that best balances such criteria as cost and capability,” said Navy spokesman Cmdr. Hubert Genest. He did not elaborate on when next year the winning design will be selected.
Vancouver Shipyards, Vancouver, British Columbia, will be contracted to build the ship, Genest added. Project milestones, such as delivery times, still have to be worked out, but the Navy hopes for initial operational capability for the ships in 2018.
In the meantime, Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) is reviewing how Navy operations could be hindered if a third JSS is not purchased. That review came after the DND’s chief of Review Services produced a 33-page report, “Internal Audit of the Joint Support Ship Project.”
The audit, written in November but released in August, warned that “the information regarding the JSS fleet size operational risks is insufficient for decision making should the funding become available to exercise the option for a third ship.”
Jocelyn Sweet, a spokeswoman for DND’s procurement branch, said steps are being taken to rectify that.
“The project’s Statement of Operational Requirement will address the operational impact of either procuring two ships, or exercising the option for the third ship,” she noted.
The audit also noted that the JSS procurement office had established a reasonable four-year construction and testing schedule for the lead ship.
The JSS is considered essential for the Navy, since it will be capable of supplying a maritime task group at sea with fuel, ammunition and food. The service currently operates two vessels, Protecteur and Preserver, to perform those roles.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay has highlighted the JSS procurement as a key program for the military. The existing two supply ships are about 40 years old and many of their systems are nearly obsolete, according to naval officers. For instance, the vessels use boilers to generate steam for their main propulsion. Spare parts are no longer readily available, and the skills needed to operate and maintain systems that were mature in the 1960s are becoming increasingly rare.
In addition, the JSS will support the Canadian Army and special forces, carrying vehicles, helicopters, ammunition and a hospital.
But Canadian Forces officers concede that the sealift aspect of the ships will not be as robust as first designed because of funding concerns. A plan to outfit the JSS with command-and-control equipment to support ground forces ashore is also being scaled back. The ships will be fitted for the equipment, but such communications systems would have to be added at a later date.
Each JSS would have a crew of about 165.
The procurement has had its share of difficulties. The project was derailed in August 2008, after the government determined that various bids from shipyards did not meet the requirements of the new fleet.
Genest said the Navy would carefully plan the training transition for the Protecteur and Preserver crews to the JSS. But he added, “A complete schedule for the transition cannot be determined until the delivery dates, schedules and trial programs are established for JSS after the design selection is made.”