New deadline announced for bids to build navy $60B fleet of new frigates

Companies vying to design and build the navy's new frigates will have until Nov. 17 to submit their bids, CBC News has learned.

Request for proposals overhauled to avoid 'a failed procurement,' sources say

The French FREMM frigate Aquitaine is an example of a design that could be picked for the Canadian navy's frigate program. (The Naval Group)

Companies vying to design and help build the navy's new frigates will have until Nov. 17 to submit their bids, CBC News has learned.

The new deadline, established by the Public Services and Procurement Department, was communicated to the 12 pre-qualified companies on Wednesday, said defence industry sources familiar with the file.

The stakes are enormous.

The program is estimated to be worth $60 billion over the next few decades and the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring is meant to ensure that as many companies as possible remain in the race.

There has been concern that the government would have few, if any bids, to consider because of the requirements and conditions that have been set down.   

The design competition was launched almost a year ago with the Liberal government saying the plan to select a foreign, off-the-shelf design would be cheaper and faster than building a warship from scratch.

Bids were supposed to be handed in last spring and the new submission date means the program is about seven months off track.

'Very high risk of failure'

Public works officials said at the beginning of this month that it will take until the spring of 2018 before the government decides who the winner might be. 

At the time, they insisted the delay would not impact the overall schedule, which aims to start construction of the complex warships in the early 2020s.

With over 600 requirements to fulfil, many bidders complained to both public works and Irving Shipbuilding, the federal government's go-to yard, for warship construction, that the tender needed to be overhauled.

Otherwise, it faced a "very high risk of failure," according to documents obtained by CBC News in June.

The sources, who could speak only on background because of the sensitivity of the file, said the request for proposals has been overhauled to ensure there "won't be a failed procurement."

Companies are scored on various aspects of their pitch, from warfare requirements to industrial benefits and the involvement of Canadian industry.

Earlier this month, Lisa Campbell, the assistant deputy minister of defence and marine procurement, outlined a few of the amendments being made to the proposal plan.

Sources said Thursday that the new system identifies approximately 20 critical requirements that each designer must meet without exception. A bidder may still be considered even if it fails on some of the lesser prerequisites, said the sources.

In the instance where there are multiple bids with minor flaws, the government will still select a winner using the highest evaluation score.

Campbell, in her Sept. 6 presentation, took pains to underline the navy's requirements for the kinds of warships it wants — and the systems that will go into them — have not changed.

The former Conservative government faced criticism for allowing the design of the navy's much smaller Arctic patrol ships to be watered down.

Bidders are also being given a grace period.

If their proposal has one, or more flaws, they will be given one shot to fix them.