NSPS – Let's not forget the Payload

15 May 2011

The strategic need for Canadian sources to build ships on an ongoing basis has led the government to develop its National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS). This same logic should lead to a consideration of the most expensive part of warships – the sensors, weapons, and other internal ­systems that make up the payload. Accordingly, perhaps it’s time to consider a National Ship Payload Policy.

A Proud History of Success
For decades, the Canadian Navy has led the way in the critical domain of sensor development and system integration. Tactical data systems and ship system integration development date back 60 years with the first shipboard digital computer based system – DATAR. The USN recognized Canada’s contribution during the development of its Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS). Canada’s frigates and destroyers have been renowned for their command and control (C2) capabilities afforded by SHINPADS architecture and components conceived by our Navy. The Navy, working with industry partners, delivered resilient, reconfigurable systems providing the unique capabilities for which the Halifax Class frigates and Tribal Class destroyers are recognized. Canada also became internationally known for its involvement in the development of underwater warfare sensors, naval communications, machinery control, and helicopter landing systems. Other nations have followed suit, emulating or purchasing these Canadian technologies to increase their own capabilities.

Yet, as we prepare to embark upon a new series of shipbuilding programs, there does not appear to be any coherent policy to build upon these technical and business successes.

Payload Requirements
The major weapons components from which ship designers select is a relatively small set – as are the propulsion options. Also, each nation has different requirements and, equally as important, different ways of operating. This is particularly true for the Canadian Navy which must operate from the Indian Ocean to the Arctic. Matching varied components to requirements is done through system integration – this being the difference between an also-ran capability and the unequalled capabilities of our frigates and destroyers.

The NSPS will deliver a continuous stream of ships with the hull and propulsion systems remaining relatively identical over at least a couple of variants. There will, however, be a requirement to update the payload to match changes in technology and evolving naval requirements. Buying systems offshore could be problematic. Providing ongoing support for a system design initially developed for an offshore customer will invariably result in increased cost and risk, and may not even be possible as these systems evolve in response to other nations’ requirements.

Most significantly, when procuring U.S. equipment, the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR) legislation seriously limits our ability to modify and adapt systems to our needs, and restricts Canadian companies from internationally marketing products incorporating anything subject to ITAR. Systems developed in Canada can be ‘ITAR free’ thus giving our Navy far greater latitude while enabling international sales.

April 2011 – HMCS Charlottetown – Naval Combat Information Operator (NCIOP), Able Seaman (AB) Sylvia Limane, AB Kynan Pelletier, and Master Seaman (MS) Conrad Johnson monitor their stations to give the Operations Room Officer (ORO) an overall picture for all areas of warfare during OP MOBILE in the Mediterranean Sea. HMCS Charlottetown, together with Canada’s NATO partners, is currently in the Mediterranean Sea enforcing an embargo under authority of the United Nations Security Resolution 1973, a measure taken to protect Libyan civilians. Charlottetown’s presence demonstrates Canada’s willingness and ability to assist in North Africa by creating a sustained maritime presence in the region while providing a range of readily deployable capabilities to the Government of Canada.

Industrial Benefits
The laudable goals of high technology jobs, high value product development and the lasting economic value on which the NSPS is based, apply equally in the case of Canadian-based payload development. The logic of keeping major expenditures for future warship production in Canada – embodied in the NSPS – is equally solid.

Common Sense
Our Navy and our industry have a proud legacy in shipbuilding and naval payload system development. Our Navy continues to face unique operational requirements. At the same time, Canada needs to retain high value high technology jobs.

Common sense would indicate that development of a National Ship Payload Policy would go a long way to maintaining that legacy.
Jim Carruthers is President of the Ottawa Branch of the Naval Officers Association of Canada (NOAC) and a board member of the CDA Institute.
© FrontLine Defence 2011