Will feds ever complete warship design competition?
Concerns arise as federal procurement officials announce another major delay in competition submission deadline.
OTTAWA — Federal procurement officials are playing down the impact of yet another delay in the competition to design new warships for the navy, saying the extra time will help produce a better result.
The design competition is the most recent — and arguably most sensitive — phase in the entire $60-billion plan to build 15 new warships, construction of which is expected to begin in 2021.
Defence companies were originally supposed to have submitted their proposed designs for the vessels in April, but the deadline has since been pushed back several times.
Lisa Campbell, head of military procurement at Public Services and Procurement Canada, said officials are now aiming to have the ship designs arrive in mid-November, though an exact date still hasn’t been set.
The delay was necessary, she said, to ensure all the participating companies understood what was expected of them, which will ensure a level playing field and maximize the number of bids.
The comments underscore the confusion — and extremely high stakes — that have surrounded the design competition, which involves many of the world’s largest defence and shipbuilding companies.
Campbell said the government is also changing the way it evaluates the proposed designs, and will tell companies if their submissions don’t meet the government’s requirements.
There have long been concerns, including within the Department of National Defence, that any delay in the design competition will push the whole project off schedule.
That could result in higher construction costs and affect the navy’s ability to do its job. The navy is already operating with fewer ships after retiring its three destroyers without a replacement.
The government likely won’t be able to select the winning design until 2018, Campbell acknowledged, “but we still anticipate ship construction in the early 2020s. So it hasn’t changed our ship construction start date.”
One of the main grumbles from industry over the past few months has been the amount of valuable intellectual property, or IP, they are being required to hand over to the government and Irving Shipbuilding.
The Halifax-based shipyard is running the design competition in co-operation with the federal government, and will be responsible for building the warships in the coming years.
Campbell defended the government’s approach, however, saying officials want to ensure they have whatever information is needed to not only buy the warships, but to operate and maintain them for decades.
“In many ways, this is an IP procurement,” she said.
“And it is hugely important to Canada. It’s very, very important for us to treat intellectual property carefully because it means Canada will have control of choice and competition down the road.”