After the F-35 debacle, are warship purchases next?

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HMCS Ottawa enters Sydney harbour, Nova Scotia. (Photo: Crouchy69 / flickr)

The debacle of the Canadian government's decision to begin the process of spending spend untold tens of billions of dollars on a new fighter jet, Lockheed Martin's F-35, is by now a well-told story. The untendered, F-35 purchase was declared a done deal several years ago by the Harper Conservatives. It's all unraveling now. CBC Television's The Fifth Estate documented the saga in a great, one hour broadcast last September.

Alas for the people of Canada and the world, the times are such that the end result will be the purchase of an established and more reliable fighter plane (killing machine), possibly Boeing's F-18 Super Hornet.

Less well known and entirely uncontested to date is the decision announced one and a half years ago by the same government to spend "$33 billion" on new warships. My article on the subject from October 2011 was one of the few critical comments written at the time.

 Now comes the first serious look at the cost of the warship program, by Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page. He says in a just-published report that the cost of construction of two naval supply ships awarded to Seaspan Shipyard in Vancouver could easily be double, or more, the stated estimate of $2 billion. The news is reported in the Vancouver Sun of March 1.*

 Page thinks the shipyard may lack the engineering experience to build the ships. One indication of that, he says, is that its estimates of the cost of training-up workers for all the skilled work required are probably low.

Seaspan was also awarded the construction of an armed icebreaker, three armed fisheries vessels and an oceanographic research vessel. The cost of these is not yet examined by Page's office.

The news of Page's report is all over the Halifax media. That's because the 21 warships that are part of the "$33 billion" program (15 destroyers and frigates and six Arctic patrol craft) were awarded to Halifax Shipyard. That yard is owned by the Irving family empire of Canada's east coast.

Page has not yet published an analysis of that part of the warship program. Watch for that -- unless the government first manages to muzzle him and his office. His office was almost single-handedly responsible for the undoing of the F-35 purchase boondoggle.

The Halifax Shipyard and at least three smaller shipyards in the Maritimes were purchased by Irving thanks to the huge cash influx it received from building the new generation of frigates (Halifax class) during the 1980 and 1990s.

Seaspan Shipyard in Vancouver is owned by the Washington Companies conglomerate. Controlling interest is held by Dennis Washington, ranked by Forbes as the 58th richest man in America.


Roger Annis is a retired aerospace worker in Vancouver. 

*The Vancouver Sun incorrectly names Kevin Page as "Ken" Page.

Photo: Crouchy69 / flickr 


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