Title: The SNC-Lavalin Pro-Fac JSS team: a compelling initiative

Sub-titled: A Canadian-led team with impressive competitive advantages is gearing up to bid on one of the hottest naval contracts in recent history.


For years Peter Langlais has kept a modest sailboat at Montreal’s Royal St-Lawrence Yacht Club and during summer months he takes it out every chance he gets. However recently, he has set his sights a lot higher.


Late last year, the SNC-Lavalin Profac team that Langlais overseas received a contract to complete the project definition phase of one of the Canadian navy’s biggest initiatives ever: the Joint Support Ships project. Since then, Langlais’s goal has been to supply the Canadian Armed Forces with the best overall proposal to design, build and support the ships slated to replace Canada’s ageing Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment Vessels.


“The maiden voyage of the first of the three new boats is planned for 2012 and SNC-Lavaline Profac team members want to be on board,” jokes Langlais, whose official title is vice-president and general manager. “Even if that means that the preliminary work required to compete for this contract will leave me with less time for sailing.”


On paper, the SNC-led team looks exceptionally strong. “We bring a lot to the table,” says the veteran defence specialist. “Our partners, which include Washington Marine Group,  Alion Science and Technology, Thales and Ratheon, have unparalleled competitive advantages that no other current or potential combination of competitors can match. We are Canadian-led.  We have access to the busiest and best shipyards in the country. And we have extensive experience in providing long-term support to the Canadian Navy, which is a key element of the project proposal.” 


The JSS program: AORs plus…

Support ships have long played a crucial, though mostly behind the scenes role in the Canadian Armed Forces’ military and humanitarian missions. But that role is changing says Ron Buck, a former naval officer, who now heads SNC-Lavalin Profac’s business development team. “In the old days, the AOR’s were mainly designed to fit into large scale Cold War type conflicts,” says Buck. “But these days, the variety and scale of the type of engagements that we may be involved with is more varied. Furthermore there is also an increased focus on improving humanitarian mission capabilities such as the ones the Canadian navy supplied during the Katrina crises. The new ship’s designs will need to reflect that.”


The Joint Support Ships can be loosely described as AOR Plus vessels. That means that at their core, they will need to be able to carry out the day-to-day sea support tasks that HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Preserver (the two remaining AORs in operation) currently perform such as re-fuelling and supply. But they will also need the capability to engage in substantial sealift operations and to support armed forces that are deployed on shore.  


“Ships of this nature can allow a naval task force to engage in deployments that are as much as six times longer than they would be able to without that kind of support,” says Buck. “In short, they are a key part of any prolonged deployment at sea.”


SNC-Lavalin Profac: Canadian leadership, coupled with deep roots in the Canadian Armed Forces

The key elements that SNC-Lavalin Profac brings to the table with its JSS bid are its home-grown Canadian leadership and its deep roots in dealing with Canada’s navy, says Gary Wiseman, the company’s Proposal Director and Chief of Staff on the project.


Wiseman describes SNC-Lavalin Profac as “Canada’s leading provider of mission critical logistics as well as maintenance and support to the Armed Forces.” The services that SNC-Lavalin Profac provides range from supporting internationally deployed army, navy and air force units, to the engineering and construction of naval vessels.


The fact that SNC-Lavalin Profac is also part of the SNC-Lavalin Group, which is one of the world’s largest engineering firms is also a big plus. “The overall organization has extensive capabilities that can be easily adapted to be the needs of the Canadian Armed Forces,” says Wiseman. One example was SNC’s involvement in helping set up a Canadian Armed Forces base in Kabul. “We often get involved in establishing housing accommodations, setting up power facilities and building roads for the engineering projects that we complete internationally,” said Wiseman. “So doing that in Afghanistan was a logical fit.”


SNC’s deep Canadian roots and long history are another big selling point. “SNC is part of a group that has more than 13,000 employees and bills in excess of $5 billion internationally, much of which relates to management fees for extremely complex multi-disciplinary projects that are many times larger,” says Wiseman. “But more importantly, most of that work is done right here in Canada. We are not just a store front. We have been here since 1911 and we will be here in the future, long after this project is complete.”


MCDV: naval construction and support experience

According to Ron Buck, one program that typifies the ideal match between the Canadian Armed Force’s needs on the JSS program and SNC-Lavalin Profac’s capabilities was the company’s participation in the construction and its ongoing support for the Marine Coastal Defence Vessel Program.


SNC-Lavalin Profac, (which was then known as Fenco MacLaren  Inc.) got involved in the program on the ground floor. The company was the prime contractor for the engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning of the original 12 MCDVs, which were all delivered on-time, on budget and which included an impressive 85% Canadian content ratio.


“Our commitment to MCDV was an end-to-end initiative, which is very similar to what is being asked of in the JSS proposal. We were not only involved with the original project, but we also took over the long-term servicing and support for the MCDVs and their payloads both in Canadian waters and anywhere those vessels sailed,” says Buck. “This contract led to our winning the ISS contract for Canada’s minor warships as well as for its existing auxiliary vessels, an experience that could prove to be invaluable in future work.”


Buck’s experience as an ex-naval officer is a major factor in his personal zeal for the Joint Support Ships project.  “Working with the Canadian Navy is not just a business for many of us here at SNC. It is a much higher commitment,” says Buck. “Not only are there elements of national service involved, in many cases we have also developed deep personal contacts with CF personnel, which make doing the job so much easier and enjoyable.”


A dynamic partnership

One of the key elements of good leadership lies in assembling the right combination of people and resources. On that score the SNC-Lavalin Profac bid looks particularly impressive. Design of the ships will be done by Alion Science and Technology, which Wiseman describes as North America’s leading naval ship designer, and which brings more than 50 years of design and marine engineering experience to the table.


“Alion’s naval architecture capabilities and our experience with replenishment and sealift designs were key reasons that our group has gotten this far,” says Wiseman. The Electronic Systems Integration will be jointly provided by Ratheon Canada and Thales Canada, both of which have extensive experience in naval support in North America and Europe.


Like SNC, Thales was also involved in the MCDV program.  Thales staff designed the vessels’ interior and exterior communications, notably the above water sensors, navigation systems as well as the mine-sweeping and armaments systems. Furthermore, several of the systems that Thales developed were specific to the MCDVs, such as the software based Communications and Monitoring and Message Processing Systems, as well as a differential shore based reference station.


That said, one of the SNC-Lavalin Profac team’s primary coups says Buck, was its ability to attract the Washington Marine Group, which operates three of Canada’s busiest shipyards, into the partnership. Washington Marine Group brings to the table extensive experience building ferries and cruise ship liners. But its defence portfolio is quite impressive and includes work on the Canadian Forces Marine Command’s six new Orca Class training and patrol vessels as well as past work on Canada’s four submarines.


Interestingly, the Wahington Marine Group’s experience in building civilian transport vessels could come in handy on the current assignment because the new JSS vessels’ key roles will include the transport and housing of the 165 non-crew personnel that each ship must be able to carry and as well as the housing of patients and medical personnel in the ships’ on-board hospitals. 


The fact that Washington Marine Group has three yards, two of which are located in Victoria and one in Vancouver, is also a big plus says Buck. At the present time it looks like the two former yards would get the bulk of the work, but having a third facility available, clearly increases the group’s flexibility should there be design, or scheduling changes down the road.


Spin-off benefits: regional, economic and international

Like most large equipment procurement projects that the Canadian Armed Forces get involved with, senior defence department officials will be closely examining industrial and regional benefits that the SNC-Lavalin Profac team’s Joint Support Ships program proposal would bring to the table.


“When all the construction, base costs and service support elements are included, the total program will be worth close to $3.0 billion,” says Langlais. “An initiative that large will generate significant numbers of spin-off jobs both nationally and internationally as well as significant technology transfers.” These industrial and regional benefits are particularly important in the case of the JSS initiative, because a slew of new ship construction is expected to take place during the coming two decades and the Canadian government wants domestic players to grab a lion’s share of the business.


There again, SNC-Lavalin Profac people are highly optimistic. “We are working very hard to meet the government’s IRB requirements and to find Canadian offsets if these are not available,” says Langlais. “From our experience in MCDV and other projects, we were well aware that there was considerable talent and capabilities that existed here in the naval production and support areas, but when we compiled our list of potential partners and preferred suppliers (which eventually grew to more than 700), we were amazed at the sheer depth.”


Langlais also thinks that SNC-Lavalin Profac’s extensive experience as a key domestic player will give it a leg up, when it comes the time to spread around the IRB’s regionally on an equitable basis. “While it is true that many potential suppliers are located Ontario, SNC has roots in all of Canada’s regions,” says Langlais. Futhermore, close to 400 potential JSS suppliers to the SNC-Lavalin Profac bid are already positioned to reap spin-off benefits because the company has already entered them in its Global Procurement Network, which makes them eligible to win contracts on other SNC initiatives around the world. 


But right now, Langlais’s main focus is on the Canadian navy. “We are getting down to brass tacks now. The teams that were selected to do the project definition have 14 months to propose a preliminary system specification and implementation proposal. And we are going to be working extra hard to do this right. I’m not giving up all my sailing time for nothing,” jokes Langlais. “In return, our team fully expects to deliver the premium solution. After all, we want to finish up by getting a ride on one of those new ships.”


For more information on the Team JSS SNC-Lavalin, you can check out their web-site at: www.team_jss.snc-lavalin.com





SNC-Lavalin Profac

Alion Science and Technology

Raytheon Canada Ltd.


Washington Marine Group


Peter Diekmeyer (peter@peterdiekmeyer.com) is a Montreal-based business and defence industry writer.









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