Canadian American Strategic Review



DND News




Background  –  Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) Naval Icebreaker

Update – Oct 2012: the LOI request for AOPS  (and JSS )  In-Service Support has been amended  to delete a 2018 first vessel delivery date. The AOPS Implementation Phase was originally to deliver ships between 2013 and 2019. Internal DND briefing notes pushed first delivery to 2015 but that assumed an AOPS contract in place by early 2012 (the NSPS umbrella agreement wasn't signed until Feb 2012, preliminary contracts with Irving Shipbuilding to "create an execution strategy" were not signed until 10 July 2012). Obviously, 2015 is now optimistic.

The Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship is meant to be a multi- season patrol ship able to deal with Arctic summer ice but spending most of its time in temperate waters. The National  Shipbuilding  Procurement  Strategy  defines AOPS as a warship but its armament will be very light. A design contract for AOPS has now been issued but its development  is several years  behind schedule. [1] Initially, AOPS was said to be a close derivative of the Norwegian Coast Guard's KV Svalbard. Similarities in hull form remain but, mechanically, the AOPS will be rather more conventional.[2]

The DELMS (definition phase) contract was awarded (to BMT Fleet Technology and STX Canada Marine) in May 2008. A 'Combat Work Package' was awarded to Irving's Halifax Shipyard in Oct 2011.  In July 2012, Irving was awarded a $9.3 M contract as a part of the design-then-build approach to AOPS. This approach may explain why AOPS' external appearance (judging by artists' concepts) has remained unchanged since early 2010 while steel has yet to be cut. AOPS will also have suffered from the apparent diminishing government interest in Arctic sovereignty.[3]

Current images of AOPS show Aker Arctic's 2010 layout. It seems unlikely that the Irving design contract involves changes to that hull form or drive system.  More likely, it will be detail design with producibility as the main object. The general AOPS design has already been been done by foreign naval architect teams with more experience in ice- resistant hulls and suitable propulsion systems. That initial design process will have specified general equipment performance requirements, leaving Irving to 'tick boxes' on final equipment type selections.

As it sits, the conceptual AOPS has morphed from an Azipod-equipped Double-Acting Ship displacing almost 7000 tonnes to the scaled-down 2010 version weighing in at 5874 tonnes –  or 1000 tonnes less than KV Svalbard. [4]  AOPS'  Technical Statement of  Operational Requirement specified a Remote Weapon Station armament. On most warships RWS are considered light support weapons. [1] But the RWS will be the main gun on AOPS. Still, the NSPS defines the AOPS as a combat vessel and the problems with AOPS are not actually technical,  they're conceptual.

The 2005 political promise was in trouble from the outset. Canada lost most of  its icebreaking design talent back in the '80s. So, 5-year completion was already a non-starter. Then Ottawa's plans for a new naval station at Nanisivik devolved from a deepwater port to a fuel-stop with crews flown up from the south as needed. With that, AOPS lost its raison d'être, becoming a patrol boat with limited ice capabilities, no full-time Arctic base (even seasonally), and overweight for patrols of temperate seas.

  Anticipated AOPS Project Specifications
  98.0 m LOA; 91.0 m LWL; 19.0 m
  BOA; 18.4 m  BWL; 5.75 m T [5]
  Propulsion motors: 2 x 4500 kW
  Diesel gensets: 4 x 3300 kW
  Open Water Speed: 17 knots
  Break up to 1m of  Level Ice
  Crew:   45 crew  (+ 40 supernumeraries)

[1] The AOPS project sprang from a 2005 Tory election promise for three "armed naval heavy icebreakers" to be in service within 5 years. Obviously the still-to-be-built AOPS was not in service by 2010 nor will the so-called 'slushbreakers' be in any sense "heavy icebreakers".
[2] The Norwegian KV Svalbard employs azimuthing pods  (combining propulsion with steering )  as also originally suggested for AOPS. As currently illustrated, AOPS will have conventional propulsion of twin shaft-driven screws and rudders (which results in a shorter hull).
[3] A former ore-loading port at Nanisivik was to be rebuilt into a modest naval facility.  It will now be a simple fuel stop with on-call staff.
[4] Note that, while names change, designers Aker and STX are intimately connected. STX is based in South Korea but a subsidiary, STX Europe AS, holds a majority share in Aker Arctic.  Vancouver's STX Marine Canada was formerly Aker Marine  (and Aker Marine Yards).
[5] Abbreviations are: LOA (Length Over All); LWL (Length Water Line); BOA (Beam Over All); BWL (Beam Water Line); and  T (Draft).