In 2004, under then Prime Minister Paul Martin, the government set out to purchase 2-3 Joint Support Ships (JSS). The JSS was supposed to be a jack of all trades ships. It was supposed to be able to replenish frigates and destroyers at sea, carry troops and equipment, and act as a floating hospital and command and control vessel. Problem was the government insisted the ships be built in Canada (this seems to be the number one problem with buying any military equipment for the CF). Canadian shipyards could not build the ships with the budget that was allocated, around $2.3 billion for two ships, so the project was cancelled in 2008. It was restarted a year later with a ship design that was more humble and a project with a larger budget, $2.6 billion for two ships. The conservative government mulled about building the hulls in the Netherlands and finishing the ships in Canada which might have worked. But, the shipbuilders and ship worker unions howled and that didn’t go anywhere. It should be noted that the Royal Netherlands Navy is building their own JSS called the Karel Doorman with essentially the same characteristics we were looking for. The ship will cost them about $480 USD, nearly a third of what we were willing to pay per ship.
It is now 2013 and no contract to build the ship has been signed to say nothing about bringing the ships into operational readiness with the RCN. Remember, this is part of the governments much toted 2010 National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (which I suspect will end up much like the Avro Arrow – cancelled due to high costs). The JSS are supposed to enter service in 2017-18, 13-14 years after the project was started. To put things in perspective, that’s more than twice as long as our involvement in WWII. On a side note, it begs the question of how we can be expected to fight wars in the future if it takes us longer than the length of the engagement just to buy equipment. Not a single Sea King has been replaced yet despite the project starting in 1982, over 30 years ago. The JSS project is entering its 10th year and no contract has been signed. The new F-model Chinooks that we desperately need for Afghanistan will be delivered after we pull out of that country. This is quite down right pathetic.
The JSS in its original form is all but dead. Now, we’re looking at buying a simple replenishment vessel probably of the Berlin-class design. However, the Parliamentary budget officer is warning that the costs for the project could be higher than the already outlandish $2.6 billion. The costs could reach $4.13 billion, or over $2 billion per vessel. Considering the conservative government is looking at axing the Defence budget by $2 billion this year to ~$18 billion, or about 1.0% of GDP (lower than Liberals in the 90s I might add) I find it outlandish that they’re prepared to waste so much money just to have the ships built in Halifax or Vancouver. By the way James Moore, how’s the CBC doing this year?
To add insult to injury, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the civilian-manned support ships for the Royal Navy, are purchasing 4 replenishment vessels under the MARS tanker program to be built in South Korea by Daewoo (arguably the foremost shipbuilder in the world). These ships are slightly larger than the Berlin-class. What is the British government paying for these 4 vessels? £452M or about $686M USD. Not per ship but for all four. The per unit cost is around $170M. If we somehow manage to keep the cost for the JSS at $1.3B per unit, that will still be over 7.5x what the British are paying. If the cost goes up to ~$2B per JSS, we’re looking at almost 12x the cost.
I don’t like using inflammatory rhetoric but this stupidity has to stop! How can a supposedly pro-military, fiscally conservative party govern in this manner? And it’s not like the conservative party doesn’t understand the high costs of building ships in Canada. Take this gem from finance minister Jim Flaherty in the fall of 2010.
Imported cargo ships, tankers and large ferries will no longer be subject to a 25 per cent tariff, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced Friday.
The measure is aimed at making it cheaper for Canadian shipowners to replace aging fleets with more modern and more efficient vessels…
“These were tariffs that don’t serve any purpose because … the ships to which they apply are not capable of being made competitively in Canada,” Flaherty told reporters in St. Catharines, Ont.
What ships would this apply to?
The measure applies to all general cargo vessels, tankers, and ferries longer than 129 metres.
The Karel Doorman and the MARS tanker are cargo/tanker vessels around 200m in length. The Berlin-class is slightly smaller at 173m. So in other words, Canadian shipyards cannot build cargo and tanker vessels of this size competitively according to the Finance Minister. That was his reason for abolishing the 25% tariff on them. But in the same year, the conservative government decided that they were going to build these same vessels in Canada for the RCN. Can some explain the logic, or lack thereof, with this government?