Canadian defense shipbuilding at risk of running aground

May 22, 2013 at 2:53 PM
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OTTAWA, May 22 (UPI) -- Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper faces more embarrassing questions as evidence suggests the nation's strategy for building a strong arctic naval force is out of control.

The timing couldn't be worse for Harper. The Conservative Party prime minister, currently visiting South America with a trade delegation, is under fire in Ottawa over a Senate expenses scandal Harper insists he knows nothing about.

As defense industry disquiet over a potential fiasco in national shipbuilding program looms, the government is being served up a deadly cocktail of fact, innuendo and conjecture over both the expenses affair and its handling of the multibillion-dollar shipbuilding program.

"Will we ever see steel cut on our promised new fleet of arctic patrol craft and new warships for the Royal Canadian Navy?" The Globe and Mail asked.

"Yes, but it will require continuing political will in holding to schedules and budgets and resolve in the face of relentless criticism."

Canada's shipbuilding program is too important to run aground on poor planning, the newspaper said on its website.

Criticism of the shipbuilding program followed reports the plan was late, well over budget and now exposed to an investigation by the auditor general.

The independent watchdog took Harper to task last year over the government's handling of Canada's participation in the international F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. That controversy isn't over yet and Canada's final role in the JSF project remains uncertain.

Canada's National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, the grander name for the ship-building program, is worth $30 billion. Increasingly, Canadian defense analysts have told the media they aren't sure the local industry can face up to the challenge.

Plans for building arctic-worthy vessels are behind schedule, costs are soaring and comparisons with northern Europe shipyards have ignited taxpayer fury about another defense purchase going awry.

Analysts said the auditor general's report, due in the fall, could be more damaging for the government. The Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute blog said the shipbuilding strategy "is in danger of running aground" and could "have military, economic and political ramifications far greater than those associated with the F-35."

The construction schedules for the navy's proposed joint support ship and the coast guard's planned Polar class icebreaker will mean that the construction of one vessel will be delayed as the selected shipyard cannot build both at the same time, Defense News said on its website.

The government says it is seeking a solution for that issue and that delivery schedules for one of the ships will have to be changed.

A Canadian Broadcasting Corp. report cited by Defense News raised questions about why Canada could be paying up to five times the price to build arctic patrol ships similar to those constructed by Denmark and Norway.

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