Canada to spend $1.5B to maintain its fleet of frigates well into 2040s – Radio Canada International – English Section

Posted: August 12, 2020 at 3:55 pm

HMCS Fredericton, a Halifax-class Canadian frigate, returns to its home port of Halifax on Tuesday, July 28, 2020 after completing a six-month deployment in the Mediterranean Sea. HMCS Oriole, left, and Bluenose II, centre, escorted the warship up the harbour. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The federal government announced Tuesday a $1.5-billion program for maintenance contracts with shipyards in three provinces to keep Canadas fleet of 12 frigates operational until a new generation of warships replaces them in the 2040s.

The Davie shipyard in Quebec and Seaspan Victoria Shipyards in British Columbia were each awarded a $500-million contract for maintenance work on the countrys fleet of Halifax-class frigates.

These frigates were brought into service beginning in 1992 and now form the backbone of the Royal Canadian Navy, Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough said in Victoria, B.C., Tuesday.

The workers here at this shipyard will be using your skills and talents to support the Royal Canadian Navy, making sure our women and men in uniform have the ships they need to carry out important missions at home and abroad.

A similar deal with Irving Shipyards in Nova Scotia is being finalized now, the government said.

The contracts announced Tuesday cover a five-year period, with the value expected to rise as the government adds more work, officials said.

Jeff Collins, a Fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a researcher on Canadian defence procurement, said these refits are designed to ensure that the Royal Candian Navy (RCN) maintains a combat capable surface fleet to the 2040s, when the first of the new Canadian Surface Combatants to be built by Irving in Halifax begin entering into service.

The Halifax-class are now arguably past the mid-life point of their operational lives, especially when looking at those initial ships that rolled out in the early 1990s, Collins said.

As we know from the Iroquois class destroyers and original Protecteur class replenishment ships, the older the ships the higher the maintenance costs will be.

A Navy ship undergoes a mid-life refit at the Irving Shipbuilding facility in Halifax on July 3, 2014. Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding Inc., has been awarded a $500 million contract by the federal government to carry out maintenance work for the Royal Canadian Navy. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Docking maintenance work periods are critical to ensure the RCN has at least eight of its 12 patrol frigates ready for deployment at all times, officials said Tuesday.

This contract is different from the $4.3 billion modernization and frigate life extension program that took place in Irving and Seaspan between 2010-2018, Collins said.

The Halifax-class Modernization/Frigate Life Extension (HCM/FELEX) program saw the replacement and updating of combat and operational equipment, Collins said.

The Canadian frigates, which were commissioned between 1992 and 1996, also got a new sea-to-land strike missile capability, something the warships did not have initially, he said.

The new strike capability was added based on operational experiences of the RCN and other allied navies, particularly after the 2011 Libya campaign, Collins said.

HMCS Ville de Quebec sails up the Halifax harbour in this Sept. 6, 2005 file photo. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Timothy Choi, a maritime strategy expert at the University of Calgarys Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies, said that while the life extension program focused on the weapons and certain electronic systems, they left the more mundane hull, mechanical, and engineering improvements mostly untouched.

Thats what these latest batch of refits will focus on, though some combat systems improvements will also be carried out such as the Naval Remote Weapon System, Choi said.

The deal is another major win for Davie shipyard, which bills itself as Canadas largest, longest-established and highest capacity shipbuilder.

Davie was left out of Canadas massive naval procurement program in 2011 because it was suffering from financial troubles at the time.

But it has since advocated to be allowed to participate in the wider program.

Canadian frigate HMCS St. Johns docs at Davie Shipyard in Lvis, Quebec. (Photo courtesy of Davie Shipyard)

Cabinet minister and Quebec City Liberal MP Jean-Yves Duclos, who delivered the government announcement at the Davie facilities across the St. Lawrence River in Levis, Que., said parts of the National Shipbuilding Strategy have been delayed because the Davie shipyard was excluded from the Conservative strategy for naval construction.

Collins said one of the unanswered questions for him is what happens if work on the new Canadian Surface Combatants is delayed and the Halifax-class frigates require another round of comprehensive modifications to their combat and operating systems similar to work carried out in 2010-2018.

Such work is very complex, involves multiple prime contractors and a careful dance of rotating ships in and out to ensure RCN operational capability, Collins said.

Irving and Seaspan have the institutional knowledge and relationships in place to undertake this but both, especially Irving, will be busy with completing their existing orders for the navy and the Canadian Coast Guard, Collins said.

There will likely be a premium to be paid to move that work to Davie and in a time of massive government spending and, I am sure, later, deficit reductions, is that a premium a government of any stripe will pay? Collins said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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Canada to spend $1.5B to maintain its fleet of frigates well into 2040s - Radio Canada International - English Section

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