VICTORIA, British Columbia — Initial construction is beginning on a new fleet of warships for the Royal Canadian Navy, with the vessels expected to be operational by 2035, service and government officials said.

Royal Canadian Navy commander Vice Admiral Angus Topshee and Defence Minister Bill Blair announced Friday that construction work on the Canadian Surface Combatant Project will begin at Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The company will build the warships and act as prime contractor while Lockheed Martin Canada is providing the design based on the BAE Type 26.

The project will see the construction of 15 warships to replace the current fleet of Halifax-class frigates. Topshee said the navy is classifying the new ships as destroyers.

“Today, we launch construction on the largest Canadian shipbuilding project since the Second World War, marking an historic milestone for the Royal Canadian Navy,” Blair said at the news conference in Halifax.

The construction schedule for Canadian Surface Combatant is lengthy. The first ship will not be delivered until the early 2030s and will then have to undergo testing, senior Canadian government officials said at a June 27 technical briefing. That means it will not be in service with the Royal Canadian Navy until 2035.

The schedule will see nine CSC ships delivered by 2040 with the last vessel set to arrive in 2050.

A senior government official said getting the new ships as soon as possible is imperative because of ongoing maintenance concerns for the aging Halifax-class frigates. The official also downplayed concerns about the schedule by pointing out that technology improvements will be added along the way, improving the ship capabilities over time. Additional upgrades are also expected for the Halifax-class frigates, the official added. No cost figures or specific details on that work were provided.

‘Recipe for disaster’

Alan Williams, the former assistant deputy minister for materiel at National Defence, noted that the CSC design has still not been completed and the final budget has yet to be determined.

“Combine that with a delivery schedule stretching over decades and you have a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Williams has warned that the cost of the CSC, combined with the cost of Canada’s F-35 procurement as well as modernization of radars and other systems used by North American Aerospace Defense Command, will leave little funds left for other major procurements.

The CSC project is budgeted at between CAD $56-60 billion, according to the Department of National Defence. But a separate examination of the project conducted in 2022 by Yves Giroux, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, put the cost figure at CAD $84 billion.

The Department of National Defence expects to have a final cost figure for the ships by the end of this year or in early 2025.

The initial construction on the CSC will allow Irving worker to develop and test building techniques for the ships.

An implementation contract for the project is expected to be signed by the end of this year, which will allow for full-rate production of the ships. That full-rate production is expected to start in 2025.

Topshee said the announcement of the initial work on CSC is “a clear sign of tangible progress towards our future fleet.”

David Pugliese is the Canada correspondent for Defense News.

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