Interview article

Canadian Surface Combatant

Alion’s Marine Pedigree
FRONTLINE NEWS  |  Nov 29, 2017

A major milestone has now been passed. Bidders for the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) project – the crown jewel of the National Shipbuilding Strategy – have now submitted their bids (November 30) in what is the most complex and expensive defence procurement in Canadian history. The new CSC vessels will replace the Iroquois-class destroyers and the Halifax-class multi-role patrol frigates with one single class that is capable of meeting all types of threats on the high seas and in Canadian coastal waters. The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) will acquire 15 new warships to form the base of Canadian sea power. According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, the entire CSC program is projected to cost roughly $60 billion (which includes training and ammunition, but not personnel, operations, maintenance or mid-life refurbishment).

The ships will have to meet a long list of demanding requirements and will execute missions ranging from humanitarian operations and coastal patrols to high intensity deployments in coalition or other international operations. They will field capabilities for underwater warfare, surface warfare and provide area air defence.

Bruce Samuelson knows ships. He began his career as a naval architect in 1984 with John J. McMullen Associates (JJMA), where he rose to the position of General Manager, Systems Engineering. He joined Alion as part of the 2005 acquisition of JJMA. Interestingly, JJMA played a role in the design of Canada’s patrol frigates in the 1980s and 90s. 

It has been said that a warship is like a small floating city. It is a residence, a restaurant, a hospital, a workplace, an airport, a communications hub, a propulsion system, a waste treatment plant, and, last but not least, a munitions dump and combat and sensor platform. All of this has to be stuffed into a steel hull about the length of a football field and capable of slicing through seas at a speed in excess of 30 knots. 

Designing these ships is a formidable task and one that Alion Canada and its parent company Alion Science and Technology readily accepts. Although the company came late to the process (Alion announced at CANSEC last May that they would bid on CSC), they bring an impressive dossier of expertise and experience in ship design and naval engineering. The company got its start in 1936 through to the Chicago-based Illinois Institute of Technology, and is now largest naval architecture and marine engineering firm in the U.S. – employing its engineering expertise in one manner or another for virtually every class of warship in the USN fleet. Alion Canada was established in 2009 to take up opportunities presented by the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy. 

Alion’s Chief Operating Officer, Bruce Samuelson, recently spoke with FrontLine about the challenges of designing a warship and the unique skills and knowledge that Alion brings to this project. 

“The complexity of a ship, for me as a naval architect, is really cool,” said Samuelson. “But to develop a response to the RCN’s requirement is a very intensive, cautious, careful process.”

Samuelson is convinced that Alion has what it takes to deliver a warship that is perfectly in sync with the Government of Canada’s needs. “We are offering a low risk, high reward Military-off-the-shelf (MOTS) design that can be aligned technologically with allies, but custom fitted to the specific needs of the RCN,” he says. 

The company intends to use the Dutch De Zeven Provinciën Air Defence and Command (LCF) frigate as a baseline for CSC “because it meets all the mandatory selection criteria without modification. It will also accelerate the production process, because it requires substantially fewer changes and provides the lowest risk approach to fulfilling Canada’s needs. It comes with a proven combat system and ship platform, reducing the risk considerably for the taxpayer and the Navy,” Samuelson explains.

Alion has assembled an impressive array of partners for its CSC bid. Among them is Damen shipbuilding, which has designed and delivered over 6,000 vessels. In Damen, Samuelson believes they have a world leader in ship design, production, tests and trials. Also critical to the Alion bid is Atlas Electronik – the combat systems provider is ready to furnish a solution based on its proven, open-architecture system. A key part of the combat system is the radar which will be furnished by Hensoldt. 

The CSC project is not just about building a warship – it is also about jobs for Canadians. The company’s strategy was to leverage strength from its U.S. operations to support growth at Alion Canada. The initial cadre of American naval engineers and architects have all been “weaned out” and the Canadian operation now employs about 100 professionals including engineers, naval architects and designers living and working in Canada. 

According to Samuelson, the investments Alion has made in Canada to date have already generated jobs and economic benefit. Alion Canada has successfully exported a ship design for the Australian MV Investigator ship. It was designed in Canada, built in Singapore, and delivered to Australia. This, he says, is a prime example of Alion’s business model: locally developed, globally delivered. Promoting its ship design capability internationally, he adds, will continue to support Canadian jobs and growth for the long-term.

For the CSC project, Alion continues to engage with its supply base to maximize Canadian content through small and medium enterprises or through the selection of leading domestic defence company products. “Our intent,” decares Samuelson, “is to put Canadian products on Canadian ships!” The Alion proposition includes internships and other benefits. The goal for the company is to lead the CSC design project and to export its ship design capabilities to the broader global market.

As the CSC project edges slowly toward the next phase, Samuelson is philosophical about the company’s prospects. “I have a very high level of confidence in our design, our team and what we are offering the Government of Canada in terms of economic benefits. I truly believe we have the warship that will deliver future sea power in a way that complements the great history and traditions of the Royal Canadian Navy.”