By R. Bruce Striegler

We’ve just begun some dredging,” begins Mike McAloon, Irving Shipbuilding’s Vice-President, Industrial Regional Benefits program, “Part of our approximate $300 million infrastructure investments intended to ensure we are ready to undertake production of Canada’s arctic offshore patrol ships (AOPS).” Irving’s infrastructure improvements include a new fabrication hall, a new unit assembly hall and a new ultra hall. “We’re also constructing a land level facility where the ships will finally be integrated, upgrading all the piers at the north end of the yard and building a new launch dock. When we’re finished with the design and engineering for the AOPS program, the yard will be ready.”

Selected under Canada’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS), Nova Scotia’s Irving Shipbuilding will construct new combat vessels including six to eight arctic offshore patrol ships and up to 15 surface combatant vessels to replace existing Canadian frigates and destroyers. In March 2013, the shipyard marked the start of the definition design phase for the AOPS vessels. “The arctic offshore vessels will provide the Royal Canadian Navy the capability of conducting marine surveillance of Canada’s waters from the Arctic to Newfoundland’s Grand Banks and B.C.’s northwest coast,” McAloon says.

He explains that AOPS is a warship, but not one intended to engage in traditional naval engagement. Instead, the ships will provide a visible presence off the maritime approaches to Canadian territory and support other government departments as they enforce and execute their maritime-related mandates. “We are focussing over the next 30 months on producing a detailed ship design while ensuring that we meet the government’s 2015 deadline to cut steel for the first ship.”

First ship scheduled for delivery in 2018

The arctic offshore patrol vessels will have flexibility to operate independently year-round in medium first-year ice conditions. Approximately 97 metres in length, they will have a range of 6,800 nautical miles, run for up to four months at a time and have a cruise speed of at least 14 knots with a maximum speed of 17 knots. Government specifications call for the ships to remain operational for 25 years beyond initial capacity. McAloon notes there will be weapons systems aboard, but not of the sophistication of the combat ships. The ships also will supply capabilities for helicopter storage.

Mr. McAloon describes the elements of the upcoming 30-month work schedule. “During the design phase, Irving Shipbuilding and our tier one partners will focus on completing design of the vessel, the engineering and the two and 3D modeling associated with that, maintain overall project management, as well as engagement of suppliers. We will be concentrating on integrated logistics support, production planning and engineering and then the all-important costing and mapping out the plans so as to deliver the first ship by 2018.” He adds that work is not expected to begin on the surface combatant ships until at least 2020.

The definition design phase is managed by a team of specialists recruited over the past year who will administer a host of expert subcontractors and material suppliers. They will oversee the integration of the complex systems to be built in each ship. “We’re also building a test production module in advance of the official ‘cut steel’ date to allow us to verify the new ship design, test our facilities and processes, and familiarize our people with both.”

Irving Shipbuilding has selected its team of prime sub-contractors which include Lockheed Martin Canada as command and surveillance integrator, GE Canada to take on the integrated propulsion responsibilities, while Lloyd’s Register Canada will be the classification society. Odense Maritime Tech­nology will provide marine engineering and naval architecture while Fleetway Inc. provides integrated logistics support.

“A big part of making this program a success is our workforce growth strategy. We expect our workforce to grow by 1,500 people over the next eight years. We’ll continue to focus on our needs as they materialize, but actively start recruiting as we go forward. We have put a big emphasis being able to attract, train and retain the critical talent we need in our industry.” McAloon adds that it will be equally important to secure non-trade skill sets such as logistical support and supply chain people, human resources, information technology and finance professionals.