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The National Shipbuilding Strategy: Full Steam Ahead for 2024

By Nancy Lochhead

While the economic impact of the National Shipbuilding Strategy goes without saying, it's the progress and renewal of this important industry that really stands out. As the year draws to a close, I wanted to take a moment and reflect on the incredible strides we have made at the Halifax Shipyard and the great pride our shipbuilders take in this important National project.

Many shipbuilders remember what shipbuilding in Canada was like before the National Shipbuilding Strategy. Work was scarce and unpredictable. For most shipbuilders, consistent work meant having to move away from home in order to provide for their families. The shipbuilding industry was in complete decay. We have come a long way since then.

Before the Halifax Shipyard won the National Shipbuilding Strategy competition, many doubted Canadian industry would be capable of constructing complex warships. So much so, it was suggested we were better off building our Nation’s ships in a foreign country. This year, I am proud to report we have proven those critics wrong. We have shown when you ignore the noise and get to work, you can build something truly amazing right here at home.

I still remember how excited I was when I heard the news about National Shipbuilding Strategy work being awarded to Irving Shipbuilding. I was in Victoria, British Columbia working on the mid-life refit of the Halifax-class frigates when we heard the announcement. Our team shouted with joy! We now had the opportunity to grow an industry in Canada and provide stability for our families.

It’s been challenging but great progress has been made! The success achieved by the Halifax Shipyard this year is remarkable in several ways. Our shipbuilders have met or exceeded their milestone objectives and close the year ahead of schedule in both repair and new construction. This will set us up well to start the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) program.

Our safety performance has surpassed industry benchmarks by greater than 50%, a testament to the rigorous standards we uphold. Recordable injury rates have decreased by 13%, while lost time to injury has seen a remarkable 33% improvement. This means our shipbuilders can come to work knowing that, by the day's end, they will return to their families in the same condition as when they arrived in the morning.

The quality of our work has significantly improved. When shipbuilders do things right the first time it is safer, faster, and therefore less costly. Our first-time quality standard, which stood at 80% in 2020, has soared to an outstanding 97% across all disciplines in 2023. Our Ship Repair team has witnessed a 60% year-over-year improvement.

All of this has led to a significant improvement in our schedule. Earlier this year, we delivered the fourth Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) to the Royal Canadian Navy in just 51 months, two months ahead of schedule. We did this eight months faster than it took us to deliver the second AOPS. Last week, we launched the fifth AOPS for the Royal Canadian Navy, also two months ahead of schedule. When we deliver this ship later next year, it will be delivered in 39 months, which is an additional 12 months faster than it took us to build AOPS 4. This is unprecedented in shipbuilding.

I am happy to report that construction on AOPS 6 is progressing smoothly. Additionally, construction of the first variant of AOPS for the Canadian Coast Guard is well underway, with plans to deliver it within a comparable build duration despite a 40% difference in design.

The next few years will be challenging. Before we finish building AOPS 8, we will need to get to work on the CSC program. These ships will replace the aging Halifax-class frigates. The Navy has made it clear they need these ships as soon as possible. The work we are doing right now on AOPS proves we can rise to that challenge.

Until we can deliver the CSC program, it is imperative we keep the Halifax-class frigates in service for at least another 15 years. Recently, the Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Topshee indicated this will be a challenge. I firmly believe our shipbuilders can meet that challenge. In addition to extending the life of these ships, we need to ensure that we increase their availability to be deployed. That means shortening the length of time they are in our shipyard for repairs. We have made great strides to improve our speed and agility in ship repair, but as these ships get older, this challenge will only become greater. We are committed to working closely with the Navy on ways this can be done faster and more efficiently.

A decade ago, the facility we work in today in Halifax did not exist. The prospect of constructing complex warships in Atlantic Canada seemed distant. Today, we have not only revitalized our workforce but also delivered four Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships to the Royal Canadian Navy—an accomplishment that every Canadian should take pride in.

This has been a great year for Canadian shipbuilding. Next year will be better.

Nancy Lochhead is the Vice President of Production at the Halifax Shipyard. She has worked in the Canadian Shipbuilding Industry for over 20 years. Born and raised in Atlantic Canada, she is grateful for the opportunity to continue her shipbuilding career at home.


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