Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Musings on the JSS...

Further to Mark's recent post about the JSS and FELEX contracts, with reference to this Globe & Mail piece, I received the following e-mail from someone familiar with the procurement process:

Your post on HCM and JSS is a good one but the article has one glaring inaccuracy.

"Only two companies have bid on this Joint Support Ship construction contract, and..."

Not entirely a fair or accurate statement. In fact there were four consortia interested in bidding on this contract (Irving, BAE Systems, ThyssenKrupp and SNC-Lavalin ProFac). As part of the process, JSS downselected to two companies (the latter two) and provided funding to them. Read the DND backgrounder on this...

The first phase of the procurement process is the Pre-Qualification phase. During this period, DND will solicit interest from industry and evaluate that interest based on a number of criteria such as financial commitment, experience and expertise, concept design and a strategy to build the ships in Canada. The Government is committed to building these ships in Canada in accordance with the current shipbuilding policy. This commitment will help build a strong economy, create high-quality jobs and encourage regional development.

The second phase, Project Definition, will see two qualified consortia selected from among the qualifying proposals. These consortia will be awarded a contract to produce and deliver to the Crown an implementation proposal consisting of a preliminary ship design, a project implementation plan and an in-service support plan. These proposals will be evaluated on the basis of compliance and the proposal demonstrating the best value, taking into consideration technical merit and total ownership cost, will be selected as the winner.

The final phase, Project Implementation, will see the winning bidder awarded two separate but inter-related contracts. The first will be for the completed design for and construction of the Joint Support Ships. The second will be for the in-service support for the life of the vessels.

Good point. I wish I could say I was surprised that the reporter missed that, but quite frankly I'm not. If they didn't miss pertinent details like this on such a regular basis, there would be many fewer rants here at The Torch.

And while we're on the topic of the JSS...

I was sitting around the other night with a couple of people, having a few drinks. One of these gents was driving ships for the navy as a MARS officer before I started high school. The other is a well-informed professional who spent much of his childhood getting into trouble in various PMQ's, since his dad was an army lifer. The naval officer was bitching about what a charlie-foxtrot FELEX is. He was upset about how the naval training system continues to push recruits through the qualification courses much too quickly, and how as our ships continue to age, continue to go into refit, continue to be unavailable for one reason or another, that we don't have platforms to put sailors on to to either train or gain sailing experience. He also expressed deep concerns about our new "Conservative slush-breakers" (I told him I was stealing that line!), and about the lack of a replacement for the Iroquois class area air defence destroyers.

When he paused for a breath, I told him I thought the navy's single biggest problem wasn't any of the points he mentioned. He looked at me like I had three heads. I said to him that the navy's biggest single problem is that the Canadian public has no idea what our sailors do, or why they do it. And until the navy explains to the average Canadian why it's in their best interests to pay billions of tax dollars every year for the operation and recapitalization of a maritime force, the boys and girls in deep blue suits will continue to suck hind tit when it comes to budget resources.

I've made this argument before, and it still holds true, as I see it:

The fact that even an engaged and intelligent observer of defence issues such as Mark doesn't see our submarine capabilities as important tells me the Navy needs to get off its martyred, long-suffering ass, and start educating Canadians about what the hell it does, and why that's worth paying for. This bunk about influencing the decision-makers ignores a stark reality: politicians more often follow public opinion than lead it. [my emphasis]

Now, this sailor I was speaking with is an intelligent individual. But what came out of his mouth next was so predictable, I just about reached across the table and smacked him: "Damian, we have the longest coastline in the world. Why we need a navy is obvious."

At that point, our heretofore silent third man piped up: "No, it's not obvious. Half my relatives serve in the CF, and I try to stay abreast of military issues as much as possible, but if someone were to press me on why exactly we need a strong navy, I wouldn't be able to tell them."

There was much spluttering and disbelief on the part of the naval officer, so I pressed the point home: "Stop a hundred people on the street at random anywhere in Canada and ask them why we need a navy - do you think you'll get even ten coherent answers? The navy needs to start with accepted Canadian national interests as first principles, and then illustrate how only a well-equipped, well-trained naval force can support some of those interests. It needs to do that in a simple enough way that Joe and Jane Canuck can understand it even if they have no military experience at all. It needs to make a case. Because the army has, and it's now well-equipped. And the air force some cases, mostly where the army needs the support. So we see the ability to support army operations being enhanced with purchases like the C-17's, the C-130J's, the CH-47's, and possibly the F-35's - not to mention potential UAV development as well. But there's a much bigger disconnect between what the army needs and what the navy provides, and as a result, nobody's been making the navy's case in Ottawa. Or, at least, nobody's been making it nearly effectively enough."

I don't know if any of that sunk in properly with my drinking partner. But it needed saying.

How does any of that relate to the JSS, you ask? Good question.

The JSS, in my non-naval-expert opinion, is a desperate concept. I say 'desperate' because there's no reason to shoehorn so many capabilities into one platform unless you don't believe you can do the more sensible thing, which is to split your eggs into separate baskets and have different ships for different roles. Look at the specs yourself if you don't believe me:

The Joint Support Ship will provide three distinct capabilities:
  1. Underway Support to Naval Task Groups – Underway support is the term used to describe the transfer of liquids and solids between ships at sea. This underway support also includes the operation of helicopters and a second line maintenance capability for helicopters, as well as a task group medical and dental facility;

  2. Sealift – To meet a range of possibilities in an uncertain future security environment, three Joint Support Ships together will be capable of transporting 7,500 lane metres of vehicles and stores. This will provide for the transport of an army battle group. The capability will also include a flexible self load and unload function; and

  3. Afloat Support to Forces Deployed Ashore – This capability will provide a limited joint force headquarters at sea for command and control of forces deployed ashore.

These three capabilities will enable the Joint Support Ship to provide better support to both naval and land forces during joint, national and international operations. Here are some highlights of what the Joint Support Ship will offer:
  • 1,500 lane metres of covered deck space for vehicles and capacity equivalent to 1,000 lane metres for weather deck stowage of sea containers. This area is roughly equivalent to that required to carry 300 wheeled light support trucks. This will serve to reduce the reliance on chartered sealift when speed or reaction is a key element of a mission.

  • The notional dimensions of the ship will be in the order of 200 metres in length, 26 metres in breadth and a displacement of 28,000 metric tonnes.

  • In addition to the interoperatibility with the Army and Air Force, being able to function as a Joint Task Force Headquarters is also important, as may be impossible to establish a JTF HQ ashore in areas of conflict. The command, control, communications and computer suite will enable headquarters staff to maintain a full and complete picture of the tactical and strategic situation from a secure position in relatively close proximity to the front lines.

  • Inherent in the ship design will also be an ability to be rapidly reconfigured. The hangar, normally used for doing maintenance on aircraft, could be rapidly transformed to care for survivors of a disaster at sea or at shore. A modularized onboard hospital could also include up to 60 beds.

  • The crew requirements for the Joint Support Ship will also be significantly reduced from those of an AOR. The current complement of an AOR is 247 officers and non-commissioned members. The Joint Support Ship will reduce this requirement significantly.

  • The ship will also be configured with both active and passive self-defence systems and an ability to navigate in first-year ice up to 0.7 metres thick.

Let me repeat: the only reason I can think of to try to make such an ungainly, neither-fish-nor-fowl, Frankenstein's monster of a ship is if you don't think the politicians would ever give you enough money to buy the same capabilities on separate platforms.

It's no wonder that the project is running into problems - they're trying to do too much with too little, trying to squeeze every last nickel of value out of each budget dollar, and as so often happens when you have that mentality, they're cutting things too close.

So here's a tip to my readers in the navy. Tell Canadians why what you do is important to them in their everyday lives. Then tell the government what you really need to do that job. Don't try to sell them on compromises, on half-solutions, on what you can make do with. When they smell that attitude, that's when they foist things like slush-breakers on to you (note that the army isn't reconstituting the airborne regiment, folks, that it isn't doing the territorial defence battalions, or whatever that idea was, but that the navy is getting the slush-breakers it doesn't need or want).

Remember, the Conservatives said they were willing to split out replenishment and transport in their naval election platform. It's amazing what falls off the table and what stays on when one branch of the CF can make a case and another one can't seem to.


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