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Questions raised about propulsion system on new Canadian warship amid fears engines could conk out

Questions raised about propulsion system on new Canadian warship amid fears engines could conk out
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The Defence department has acknowledged the government’s choice for a $60-billion warship program has a propulsion system that has been plagued by problems, at times shutting down entirely while at sea.

But the department says it is confident the Type 26 ship, designed by the British firm BAE, meets all the requirements necessary for the Royal Canadian Navy’s future fleet.

The acknowledgement of the problems is contained in a Department of National Defence fact sheet that outlines potential issues with the selection of Lockheed Martin Canada, with its bid of the BAE Type 26 vessel, as the “preferred bidder” for the Canadian Surface Combatant program.

That $60-billion CSC program, the largest single government purchase in Canadian history, will see the construction of 15 warships at Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax.

Among the issues addressed by the DND was an outline of some potential problems with the Type 26 warship. “The British Navy has had serious issues with the propulsion system in their BAE Type 45s, both in the generator — which has caused near-total power failures — and the engines themselves,” the DND document noted. “Given it uses the same propulsion system, will this affect the CSC too?”

Given it uses the same propulsion system, will this affect the CSC too?

But in the document, the DND also expressed confidence in the Type 26, adding that a design that didn’t meet all the requirements would not have been considered. Until negotiations with the preferred bidder are completed, the DND can’t discuss specific elements of the warship design, the department’s response pointed out.

Over the years, the BAE Type 45 destroyers have been plagued by problems, with the propulsion system conking out during operations and exercises. In March the British government awarded a contract to BAE worth more than $200 million to fix the problems, with the first ship to be overhauled by 2021.

An artist’s rendering of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, Lockheed Martin’s proposed design for Canada’s $60-billion fleet of new warships. Lockheed Martin

“The T26 design therefore offers more propulsion options, both mechanical and electrical, and is underpinned by a greater number of propulsion engines, providing greater redundancy,” the email noted. “We are confident that the Type 26 design is the right solution for the Royal Canadian Navy and meets the requirements for the Canadian Surface Combatant.”

Officials with the consortium expressed surprise at the suggestion the Type 45 issues could be linked to the Type 26 design.

We are confident that the Type 26 design is the right solution for the Royal Canadian Navy and meets the requirements for the Canadian Surface Combatant

Negotiations with Lockheed Martin Canada on the surface combatant program have already hit a roadblock after the Canadian International Trade Tribunal ordered the Canadian government on Nov. 27 to postpone the awarding of a contract while it investigates claims the Type 26 doesn’t meet the military’s needs.

That came after Alion, one of the firms that submitted a bid on the CSC project, filed a complaint with the trade tribunal. Alion, a U.S. firm, has also filed a legal challenge in federal court, asking for a judicial review of the decision by Irving and the Canadian government to select Lockheed Martin and the BAE design. Alion argues the Type 26 cannot meet the stated mandatory requirements, including speed, that Canada set out for the new warship and because of that should be disqualified.

Alion had offered Canada the Dutch De Zeven Provinciën Air Defence and Command frigate, which the firm says meets all of Canada’s requirements.

The entry of the BAE Type 26 warship in the competition was controversial. Previously the Liberal government had said only mature existing designs or designs of ships already in service with other navies would be accepted, on the grounds they could be built faster and would be less risky. Unproven designs can face challenges as problems are found once the vessel is in the water and operating.

But that criteria was changed and the government and Irving accepted the BAE design, though at the time it existed only on the drawing board. Construction began on the first Type 26 frigate in the summer of 2017 for Britain’s Royal Navy, but it has not yet been completed.

Company claims about what the Type 26 ship can do, including how fast it can go, are based on simulations or projections. The two other bidders in the Canadian program have ships actually in service with other navies so their capabilities are known.

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