Saturday, December 5, 2009



By David Pugliese

Ottawa Citizen journalist

The Joint Support Ship project still sits idle waiting for the Harper government to move ahead on a new shipbuilding policy.

When will that be happening?

There was talk that the policy would be ready by the end of this year but that won't take place. Some in industry expect a policy by the spring, unless a federal election gets in the way. If that happens, then all bets are off.

Work on a new shipbuilding policy was launched with great fanfare in the summer, with meetings between government and industry representatives. But since then, the government has been focused on other issues.

The Canadian Navy, however, has signaled that it is ready to move ahead on JSS.

“We’re pretty much ready to be talking to the [defense] minister about what we need to do to advance the JSS so we’re ready to go,” Vice Admiral Dean McFadden told Defence Watch several months ago. “One thing that has caused us to take a bit of a pause in progressing that as an independent program is what I think is a superb initiative to try and develop a new and strategic relationship between government and industry in how this country goes about building ships.”

“That initiative gained a great deal of momentum in the summer,” McFadden added. “There was a forum held in Ottawa in July where I think we are coming to the fundamental issue — we want to stop doing a boom-and-bust building cycle in this country.”

And so it stands.

No Cabinet approval on a shipbuilding policy. Then no movement on JSS.

The big question in the maritime world is focused on when JSS will be delivered (although the more pessimistic ask, "Will it ever be delivered?").

The project, before it ran into trouble, called for a contract to be awarded last year with the first vessel delivered in 2012.

But Dan Ross, the Defence Department’s Assistant Deputy Minister for Materiel, acknowledged the obvious to a Senate defence committee when he informed them that the delivery schedule won’t be met. But he still told the Senate committee (May 25) that he expected a request for proposals for the ships to be issued to industry in 2010. It could take another year to get to a contract and from there another four to five years to complete the ship, he noted.

That would mean the first ship would be delivered around 2016.

But even with that schedule Ross would not commit to the program delivering three Joint Support Ships at the end of the day. “I do not know if anyone here is prepared to state what the outcome will be,” he told the committee.

The JSS was originally announced in 2004 by the Martin government but the focus on Afghanistan diverted DND's attention to equipment issues related to that war. As a result, JSS went on to the backburner for a bit. It did eventually proceed, only to derail in August 2008 after industry failed to meet the government’s specifications within the allotted budget.

The three JSS would replace the existing 40-year-old plus supply vessels which haul fuel and ammunition for naval task groups at sea. The ships would also provide support to the Canadian Army and special forces, carrying troops, vehicles, helicopters, ammunition and a hospital, as well as act as a command center for ground forces sent ashore.