Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Choices for CSC Design?

A local paper has apparently just cottoned on to the possibility that an existing foreign ship design will be the basis for the proposed Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC). I had thought it had been public knowledge for some time now, but to be fair, they are having a bit of a staffing issue right now. 

The CSC ships are intended to replace the RCN's IROQUOIS class destroyers and HALIFAX class frigates. The former were refitted in the 1990s as AAW destroyers, and the latter were primarily designed as ASW frigates during the cold war, but were also fairly well rounded general purpose frigates that have become more so after their ongoing FELEX refit program.

Last remaining IROQUOIS class destroyer in commission, HMCS ATHABASKAN.
HALIFAX class frigate HMCS CHARLOTTETOWN, in her post-FELEX refit configuration. 
A number of the potential CSC candidates have visited Halifax over the last few years, with some of the visits possibly deliberate opportunities for the RCN to see them up close. I have managed to photograph a number of the candidates over the years, and it is as good a time as any to look back over them. I'm not up on the merits of each design, nor the RCN's specific requirements, so this will be mainly about the photos (but I will interject with ill-informed comments as I see fit).

The RCN requires as many as 15 ships, with a split between ships fitted for area air warfare (AAW) and general purpose / anti-submarine warfare (GP / ASW). Cost will be a big driver, as will the ease with which the design can be licensed to be built in Canada. Presumably it is a plus to have a design that is easily modified between the two versions required by the RCN, and even better if they are modular ships that can be easily reconfigured to suit the requirements of the moment. For instance, if a ship carrying the AAW fit goes into refit, perhaps the AAW hardware can be transferred to another ship previously configured as a GP ship. This flexibility would presumably come at a premium, however. 

I personally suspect the two leading candidates are the French/Italian FREMM type frigates, and the Danish combination of IVER HUITFELDT / ABSALON classes. 

FREMM class frigate FNS AQUITAINE.
FREMM class frigate FNS AQUITAINE.
FNS AQUITAINE was here in April 2013, the first visit for this class of ship. While good looking ships, I can't help but think they look a bit dainty, though the French surely know how to build seaworthy warships so that may be a bit misleading. They also look smaller than their Danish counterparts.

I tend to prefer the appearance of the Danish ships, but appearance doesn't necessarily translate into capability. The AAW version, the IVER HUITFELDT class, uses the APAR phased array radar system whose development Canada helped to fund quite a few years ago. In fact, sixteen years ago I assumed the same APAR / SMART-L radar fit when I created renderings for a then-rumoured AAW version of the Halifax class frigate (that never came to pass).

Rumoured PROVINCE class rendering. © Sandy McClearn.
A number of the Danish ships have also been here over the last several years.

HDMS ABSALON during the RCN's centennial celebrations.
HDMS ABSALON during the RCN's centennial celebrations.

A view over the foc'st'le of HDMS ABSALON.
HDMS ABSALON from aft.
While NIELS JUEL above has a single helicopter hangar, the basic design can accommodate twin hangars, as seen above in ABSALON. The Danish ships are compatible with the Danish Navy's StanFlex modular mission payload system, which allows for the easy swapping in and out of some systems.

Two other classes of European frigates also carry the APAR / SMART-L combination: the German Navy's F124 SACHSEN class and the Dutch Navy's DE ZEVEN PROVINCIEN class. I have not managed to capture images of the latter ships (in a strange twist, two of which carry reused 5" gun mounts from the RCN's pre-TRUMP IROQUOIS class destroyers), but the former has been here before. The Geman ships also have a near cousin in the F123 BRANDENBURG class, a GP frigate design.

FG Ships HESSEN (left) and FRANKFURT AM MAIN (right).
A possible in for the German ships is the fact that the RCN has already selected the German Navy's BERLIN class AOR (one of which is seen above) as the replacement for the PROTECTEUR class ships. A drawback would be that the BRANDENBURG class ships on which they are based were commissioned around the same time as the RCN's existing HALIFAX class frigates, which CSC is supposed to replace. The basic design is therefore a bit long in the tooth.

Other ships that might be considered might be the Spanish Navy's F100 ALVARO DE BAZAN class, which has also been selected as the basis of the RAN's new HOBART class destroyers. The F100 class is also the basis for the Norwegian Navy's FRIDTJOF NANSEN class ships. The latter have visited Halifax on a number of occasions.

The Spanish ships, and their derivatives, use the US Navy's SPY phased array radars and AEGIS combat system. I also have photos of a few less likely candidates, such as the USN's Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), of which I have captured two members. In their current configuration these ships are not suitable for the CSC program, but their builder has proposed a modified version to Saudi Arabia recently, and might so something similar for CSC. The Saudis, it should be noted, have recently rejected their LCS-derived proponent - due to cost I believe. I therefore believe that someone would have to seriously sharpen their pencils to have these ships considered for CSC. Never mind the ongoing problems with (and criticism of) both classes of LCS currently in service with the USN.

LCS class member USS FREEDOM.

LCS class member USS MILWAUKEE.
Another option I saw mentioned at one point would be a modified version of the US Coast Guard's National Security Cutter (NSC), the Legend Class ships. This is another paper proposal that I don't think has much chance of success.

One final potential proponent would be the Type 26 frigates proposed for the Royal Navy. These ships have not yet been built, so I have no photos. The RN's other recent ships, the DARING class AAW destroyers, are probably too expensive to be an option. Plus, I think they are rather ugly.

I don't think the British ships have much chance of being selected. The Type 26 ships are years away from hitting the water, and as a paper design, carry more risk than an existing, proven, design. For this reason I suspect the French and Danish ships (and to a lesser extent, the German, Dutch, and Spanish designs) have the edge here. These are all relatively recent designs, some of which are still being built for their country's navies, but have been proven to varying extents through actual service. Proven designs present less risk to a procurement program, especially one so historically apt to go over budget as a shipbuilding procurement program. The CSC program is already going through budgetary challenges before (and perhaps partly because) a design has even been chosen, so this will be a big consideration.

It should be noted that all of the above is merely my opinion, and as I have no inside knowledge of the procurement program in particular or shipbuilding in general, my opinions should be taken with a large grain of salt.

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