Canada's new Arctic offshore patrol shipswere part of the Halifax shipyards winning bid in the federal government's shipbuilding procurement program. (Department of National Defence illustration)

One of the world's largest defence contractors is in Atlantic Canada this week looking for subcontractors to supply skills and materials to help build Canada's Arctic offshore patrol ships.

U.S.-based Lockheed Martin is in charge of surveillance and command systems for the new ships.

Irving Shipbuilding was awarded the overall $288-million design contract last week and construction is expected to begin in 2015.

"What we're really doing is looking around trying to find out what's new and innovative," said Michael Barton, Lockheed Martin spokesman.

As part of the deal, Barton said Lockheed Martin must include Canadian companies as much as possible.

"Anything we buy offshore, we have to bring an equivalent amount of money back in to Canada," he said.

On Tuesday, more than a dozen New Brunswick companies met with Lockheed Martin in Saint John to hear how they can get a piece of the action.

Fredericton MP and Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield was there too.

"The role of government is to ensure that we create the climate for businesses to succeed and we're providing these information sessions across Atlantic Canada."

Ashfield said the Arctic offshore patrol ships are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Canada's $35-billion shipbuilding strategy.

While it is not known exactly how many Arctic patrol ships will be built under the deal, the original estimate was between six and eight.

"Well, certainly it's a huge thing for the Maritime economy. We're looking at 20-30 years of work here, so that in itself is incredible," said Ashfield.

Lockheed Martin will be in Halifax, N.S. Wednesday and St. John's, N.L. on Friday.