MV Asterix / Project Resolve
On 29 January 2018, Davie Shipbuilding and Federal Fleet Services announced that following an intensive period of at-sea trials and testing, Asterix has been formally accepted by the Department of National Defence and has now entered full operational service with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). As planned, Asterix performed daily replenishment-at-sea (RAS) exercises with the RCN and conducted extensive RCAF CH-148 Cyclone helicopter operations to prove and demonstrate the world-leading capabilities of the Resolve-Class Naval Support Ship. These exercises have included everything from dual RAS operations to helicopter landing, take-off and vertical replenishment trials.
The 26,000-ton interim afloat support ship MV Asterix was built as a container ship, Asterix was converted into an Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment (AOR) vessel by Davie Shipbuilding to fill the gap left by the retirement of the AORs HMCS Preserver and HMCS Protecteur in 2014, and delays to the introduction of the new Queenston-class Joint Support Ships (JSSs).
Without supply ships, the Navy cannot sustain operations offshore. In 2014, the Navy lost its last two supply ships (Preserver and Protecteur) after 45 years of service. Since then, Canada relied on Chile to support the Navy on the West Coast for 40 days in 2015, and Spain to support the Navy on the East Coast for 40 days in 2016. This is only when their vessels are available in peace time.
The Government of Canada determined in November 2015 that proceeding with Project Resolve was the most viable course of action to provide the Navy's at-sea oil replenishment capability until the Joint Support Ships, to be built by Seaspan's Vancouver Shipyards, are operational. The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that competitions for major military procurements stand up to the highest standards of openness and transparency.
The interim auxiliary oil replenishment process commenced as a result of an expression of interest by Chantier Davie Canada Inc. The previous government made a decision to proceed with this proposal through a sole-source rather than a competitive process. The previous government also modified the long-standing procurement rules governing contracts for interim defence requirements.
The initial concept design was developed in-house by shipbuilding and naval experts within Davie and Federal Fleet Service’s senior management and the first general arrangement was drafted by NavTech, a Canadian ship design firm. The detailed and production design and engineering was performed by Rolls-Royce who are the largest ship design firm in the world, having designed thousands of vessels with equal or higher capabilities. In fact, navies around the world have chosen Rolls-Royce to design their ships.
The potential future Joint Support Ship is a decades old German design. More than 10 years ago (in 2006), a leading American defence analysis firm wrote that it doubts any further orders of this design would be made beyond the two existing ships which were built for the German navy; given the obsolescence of the design. The last of these ships was completed in 2003 and, by now, enough differences in component availability will have arisen to make an exact repeat of the Berlin class improbable. In addition, any future design will be modified to incorporate lessons learned from the first pair of ships. Thus, it is most improbable that any future construction will be repeats of the Berlins.
The price for Asterix is $659 million. The Government of Canada would pay approximately $520 million for the lease of the vessel over 10 years. The additional services requested by Canada over ten years amount to around $300 million. This includes ship management, crewing, training, operations, maintenance, certifications, insurance, victualling, fuel and lubricants etc. Canada is able to purchase the vessel at any time for $659 million (versus >$2 billion each for the Joint Support Ship, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office).
In the medium-term, the Royal Canadian Navy will have only one naval support ship for the next decade until Vancouver Shipyards delivers the first Joint Support Ship. It is planned that Asterix, the first Resolve-Class ship, will spend much of the next five years on foreign deployments. Without a second naval support ship, the navy will have to rely on the navies of Chile and Spain for at-sea replenishment but that comes with various operational and sovereign issues. There is, therefore, a clear interim requirement for a second Resolve-Class Naval Support Ship from Davie in the short-term.
In the long-term, the Royal Canadian Navy needs four supply ships, two on each coast. Four vessels will allow the Navy to have one vessel on high readiness on each coast. While one is undergoing maintenance or on foreign deployments, another will be standing by or on operations on both coasts. Without a second supply ship in the interim, the Navy will only be able to sustain operations offshore for a matter of days. With a supply ship, it can sustain operations for months.
The Minister of National Defence noted on October 31st 2017 that relying on Spain and Chile would cause a problem for the Navy. He stated: “this is one [capability] gap that will turn into a capability loss that we currently have to rely on other nations to resupply our ships.” Canada cannot wait eight years for a supply ship on the West Coast. We urgently need one today which is why the House of Commons and the Senate recommended the government move forward urgently with Davie to build a second Resolve-Class supply ship. In recognition of this urgent need, both the Senate and the House of Commons recommended during 2017 that Canada obtain a second Resolve-class supply ship from Davie.
The RCMP launched an investigation into allegations Vice-Admiral Mark Norman leaked cabinet secrets to Davie to keep the Liberals from cancelling a $700-million contract to provide the navy with the interim support ship. Norman was suspended as the military’s second-in-command in 2017 and charged with breach of trust in March 2018. He denied any wrongdoing and vowed to fight the charge in court. The Mounties alleged Norman was upset in November 2015 that the new Trudeau government was reconsidering the interim supply ship contract, and that he worked with Davie to pressure the Liberals into staying the course.
Most of the work on the interim support ship was finished in late 2017, at which point Davie laid off 800 workers; the shipyard says it did not have enough work for them, but that it is hoping to hire some back for work on icebreakers.
Davie’s plan was the $600 million conversion of the Obelix, a sister ship to the Asterix, into the navy’s second supply ship. Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan told Le Journal de Québec last week through his press attaché that the government does not plan to buy a second supply ship. Sajjan’s press attaché Bryne Furlong reiterated that, “Navy and Coast Guard supply requirements have been extensively studied and are subject to long-term planning, which does not include a second supply vessel?.” Seaspan has a backlog of three ships to build before work on the first supply ship can begin in 2023, for delivery in 2027.
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