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Joint Support Ship (JSS)

The joint support ships (JSS) will provide the Royal Canadian Navy with the ability to: increase the range and endurance of naval task group missions, with the capability of delivering fuel and other vital supplies to vessels at sea; provide facilities for medical and dental services; and provide a home base for helicopter maintenance repair.

In early 2019, the Government of Canada made a decision to re-sequence construction of the JSS and the offshore oceanographic science vessel (OOSV) at Vancouver Shipyards, in order to build on the momentum underway with the construction of the JSS early blocks. Under the revised sequencing, Vancouver Shipyards will complete construction on JSS 1, followed by construction of the OOSV and then JSS 2. On June 12, 2020, a performance-based build contract was awarded to Vancouver Shipyards for the full construction of 2 JSS. This build contract includes the finalization of the scope and terms of the project, the construction and delivery of the ships, spare parts, technical data, training and infrastructure.

On 30 June 2022 the Government of Canada announced new timelines for the delivery of the RCN's future joint support ships (JSS). The first JSS, which was previously scheduled for delivery in 2023, is now expected to be delivered in 2025. The second JSS, which was previously scheduled for delivery in 2025, is now expected to be delivered in 2027. These extended timelines are related to sustained supply chain delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and further challenges related to a first-of-class delivery. The Government of Canada is actively monitoring progress and working with Seaspan's Vancouver Shipyard to ensure the delivery of these vessels to support the RCN.

The replacement program for the existing AORs saw several iterations. The navy envisaged a hybrid ship, combining the features of a tanker with those of a roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO) ferry. At some junctures, up to four ships, replete with floodable docking wells, were envisaged; at others, capability walk-backs (i.e., reductions in lane-meters of deck space) were the order of the day. The Multi-role Support Vessel became the Afloat Logistic Support Capability (ALSC) program in 1999. At that time, a minimum of three ships in the range of 35,000 tons was being considered. The ALSC was to be capable of supporting deployed forces ashore through the ability to self-load and unload their cargo and will possess an 'over the beach' capability in a benign environment.

In MARCOM Capability Planning Guidance 2000 (MCPG 2000), September 1999, the Chief of the Maritime Staff [CMS] stated that his priorities for the development of major capital projects were the Command/Control and Area Air Defence Replacement (CADRE), the Afloat Logistics and Sealift Capability (ALSC), the Frigate Life Extension Project (FELEX) and finally the Submarine Life Extension (SE-LEX) program.64 Although the navy's number one priority was ostensibly CADRE, an examination of different literature seemed to indicate that the top priority for Canada was actually the ALSC.

The replacement of the Protecteur class was being proposed through development of what was called the afloat logistics and sealift capability. This project, were it to be approved, would not only replace the at-sea logistics support of the Protecteur class but would also be capable of delivering the lead elements of a Canadian contingency force anywhere in the world accessible by sea. Fully 85% of the world's population would be accessible to the Canadian Forces from the sea as a result of the capabilities proposed for this vessel. Other roles, including aviation support, logistics over the shoreline, humanitarian crisis response, and a joint force headquarters capability, are also under consideration for this vessel, which as of 2001 was planned for introduction by 2007.

The ASLC evolved into what became known as the multi-role, highly capable Joint Support Ship (JSS). Considering some of the humanitarian and disaster relief missions the AORs have carried out since the end of the Cold War, namely in Somalia, East Timor and more recently in New Orleans, the plan for a platform that will perform beyond replenishing ships at sea seemed sensible.

In April 2004 the Government of Canada decided to acquire three new support ships for the Canadian Forces, at an estimated cost of $2.1 billion. This project was initiated to replace the Protecteur Class Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment vessels with three multi-role ships to be delivered to the Canadian Forces between 2012 and 2016. The new support ships will replace the navy's two Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment vessels - or AORs. These vessels were over 35 years old and have become difficult and costly to maintain. They were designed to meet the needs of a Cold War navy. There's no question they've performed extremely well, but it's time they were replaced.

The new support ships was to be capable of refuelling and re-supplying other ships at sea, and of providing support for ship-borne helicopters - just as the existing vessels do now. But they were to be capable of doing much more. Their ability to transport a significant amount of equipment, and transfer it to shore, would give the Canadian Forces a critical strategic sealift capability. In fact, taken together, the three new support ships would be able to deploy the 'lion's share' of the equipment of an army battle group to any port in the world. Finally, the new vessels would be capable of supporting forces deployed ashore with facilities for a joint force headquarters, a small hospital, and rest and recuperation facilities. All of this will be a significant improvement of the navy's current operational effectiveness.

On August 22, 2008 the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), the Honorable Christian Paradis, announced the termination of a procurement process involving the shipbuilding industry. After receiving and evaluating the mandatory requirements for the Joint Support Ship Project from the bidders, the Crown determined that the proposals were not compliant with the basic terms of the Request for Proposals (RFP). Among other compliance failures, both bids were significantly over the established budget provisions. One bidder had offered to build two ships for the available funding while the other had offered three, but at a cost significantly higher than the budget provisions.

The Conservatives restarted the JSS program in the summer of 2008 after shipyard bids exceeded what had been budgeted. The Joint Support Ship (JSS) Project was not cancelled. This project remained a key priority for the Government and the Department of National Defence. The original JSS procurement process consisted of three phases. The first phase, Pre-Qualification, identified industry teams capable of fulfilling the project requirements. The second phase awarded Project Definition contracts to two industry teams selected to develop project implementation and in-service support proposals in response to a Request for Proposals. The final phase, Project Implementation, would select one of those industry teams to design and build the ships and provide long-term in-service support.

After careful review and evaluation of the bids submitted by two industry teams, the Department concluded that the bids did not meet the mandatory requirements for the number of ships needed within the cost expectations that had been set. The entire procurement process was carried out in close consultation with industry to ensure best value for Canadians' tax money. Unfortunately, a number of cost factors, such as materials, had escalated significantly beyond what was anticipated by either the Department or industry. However, the procurement process has allowed the Crown the opportunity to garner valuable experience on its approach that will inform decisions on the way ahead.

On July 14, 2010 the Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence, together with the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada and Minister for Status of Women, and the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, announced the Government was moving forward with procurement of new Joint Support Ships (JSS). "This government is providing our men and women in uniform the tools and equipment they need to do the jobs asked of them," said Minister MacKay. "The Joint Support Ship will be a new vessel for our Navy that better enables our sailors to protect Canadian coastlines and sovereignty, and support international operations." The Government will acquire two support ships, with the option to procure a third. The JSS project represents a total investment by the Government of Canada of approximately $2.6 billion.

On 19 November 2010 it was reported that the Harper Government had abandoned the long-studied hydrid concept JSS in favor of a straight AOR replacement. The two ACAN candidates were said to be Navantia's Cantabria (an enlarged Patiño / Amsterdam design) and Flensburger's German Berlin (represented by TKMS Canada).

On June 2, 2013 the Government of Canada announced that a ship design for the Joint Support Ships being acquired for the Royal Canadian Navy has been selected, as part of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy. The Joint Support Ships, which will be built by workers at Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd, will supply deployed Naval Task Groups with fuel, ammunition, spare parts, food and water. They will also provide a home base for maintenance and operation of helicopters, a limited sealift capability, and support to forces deployed ashore.

The selection of the Joint Support Ship design was conducted through a transparent assessment process, involving multiple government departments and third party advisors, based on three criteria: operational capability, affordability, and the cost and schedule risks associated with building the ship. The process was monitored by audit firm KPMG, as an independent third-party. First Marine International, a recognized firm of shipbuilding experts, provided ship construction costing expertise.

Two viable ship design options were commissioned for the Joint Support Ships: an existing design and a new design by BMT Fleet Technology. Based on rigorous analysis and assessments by government officials and military experts, the proven, off-the-shelf ship design from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems Canada was selected as the best design option for the Royal Canadian Navy and for Canadian taxpayers.

Canada would provide the design to Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd, to review in preparation for actual production. This design development work will be led by Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd., as part of the Joint Support Ship definition contract to be negotiated between Canada and the shipyard. Once these steps are completed,Canada will acquire the required licensing for the ship design. This license will enable Canada to use the ship design and build, operate, and maintain the Joint Support Ships in Canada. This effort will also enhance technical skills and knowledge among Canadian shipyard staff, to be leveraged as the shipyard builds the subsequent ships assigned under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.

The Government of Canada remained committed to the Joint Support Ships (JSS) to be built under the Government's Shipbuilding program. The JSS project is designed to increase the range and endurance of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) by enabling naval task groups to stay at sea for long periods without obtaining provisions from ashore. The JSS will supply deployed Naval Task Groups with fuel, ammunition, spare parts, food and water. They will also provide an at-sea platform for maintenance and operation of helicopters, a limited sealift capability, and support to operations ashore.

Under the initial plan, the first Joint Support Ship, Queenston, was scheduled for delivery in 2020. Queenston is expected to be operational in late 2020 and the second ship, Châteauguay, will be delivered a year later and operational in late 2021.

As the selected shipyard for non-combat vessels, Seaspan's Vancouver Shipyards was responsible for the construction of both JSS at their shipyard in North Vancouver, British Columbia. The two JSS will replace the RCN's AOR vessels. The new ships will provide core replenishment, sealift capabilities, and support to operations ashore. The JSS will be capable of operating across a full spectrum of threat environments providing a robust warfighting capability with all military crewing and contain the capacity to be continuously upgraded over the next 30 to 40 years to meet the Navy's evolving operational requirements.

The JSS are a critical component for achieving success in both international and domestic CAF missions. The ships constitute a vital and strategic national asset. The presence of replenishment ships increases the range and endurance of a Naval Task Group, permitting it to remain at sea for significant periods of time without going to shore for replenishment.

Following decades of delays, the latest plan was for a supply ship to begin construction in 2016 and to have it delivered in 2019. This has been delayed due to the fact that according to government reports, Seaspan can only build one ship at a time and it must first build four vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard (3 Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels and 1 Offshore Oceanographic Science Vessel) before it is able to actually build the two Joint Supply Ships for the Royal Canadian Navy.

The National Shipbuilding Strategy, started by the Conservatives but championed by the Liberals, was in trouble. The navy needed a leased cargo ship because Seaspan, the Vancouver Shipyard where permanent supply ships were being built, was far behind schedule, even after a $230 million design and preliminary work contract was announced in 2017.

Below is an excerpt of the testimony provided by a Coast Guard official on November 7th 2017 before a parliamentary committee: “The dates certainly can be provided. I will say that the very first OFSV will be delivered in 2018, the second one in 2019, and the third one in the 2020-21 timeframe. That’s in accordance with the latest schedule that VSY has produced. The OOSV will follow that. We’re still in the design phase for the OOSV. That will take some time. Between the delivery of the OOSV and the delivery of the Polar, there are the two naval resupply ships in there. The Polar-class icebreaker will follow the delivery of the second joint support ship.”

To clarify, this is the best-case scenario: Seaspan will not deliver the first vessel to the Canadian Coast Guard until 2018, the second in 2019, the third in 2020-2021, and the fourth likely two years later (2023), as it is more complex. In 2023, they will commence the actual construction of the Joint Supply Ship which will likely be delivered and accepted by the Navy at the earliest in 2026. The second JSS will likely be delivered approximately 18-24 months later. This means the Navy will have to wait eight more years before it can have a second supply ship on the West Coast.

Germany built the Type 702 Berlin-Class Support Ship (same design as JSS) for C$504m and it took four years to build one ship, with four of the world’s top (German) shipyards each building sections of the ship. On the other hand, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office “Seaspan’s experience has been in the field of barges, ferries and smaller commercial ships. The company has very little experience in the class of ships that will be produced,” and as such further significant delays should be expected.

The Parliamentary Budget Office in 2013 calculated that the JSS will cost $4.1 billion for two vessels. That is four times more than Germany paid for the identical 26-year old design. Each supply ship from Davie would cost $659 million.

The Canadian Government awarded a $2.4 billion contract 16 June 2020 to Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards for the full construction of two joint support ships (JSS) for the Royal Canadian Navy. Valued at $2.4 billion (including taxes), this contract will allow the transition to full-rate construction of the first ship, the construction of early blocks for which began in June 2018, and then the second ship.

The design contract for the JSS project was awarded in February 2017, and early build construction began in June 2018. The first JSS is expected to be delivered in 2023, and the second in 2025. The total JSS budget includes $3.1 billion for the purchase of the two ships and initial spares, as well as $1 billion for design and production engineering work, project management and associated contingency costs, resulting in a total value of $4.1B.

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