Work begins on RCN’s next generation of warships 

Minister of National Defence Bill Blair, left, and Commander RCN VAdm Angus Topshee, right, unveiled the name for the future Canadian Surface Combatant Fleet on June 28. The ships will be known as River-class destroyers. MONA GHIZ

Work begins on RCN’s next generation of warships 

By Nathan Stone,
Trident Staff

VAdm Angus Topshee, Commander RCN, spoke to shipbuilders, sailors, government officials, and others during the announcement. MONA GHIZ

From the floor to the gantries and even on the cross section of an Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship, hundreds of hard-hatted shipbuilders in Irving Shipbuilding’s Halifax Module Hall listened as representatives from the Government of Canada, Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Irving Shipbuilding announced the start of construction on the new fleet of Canadian Surface Combatants on June 28. 

Minister of National Defence Bill Blair, alongside Dirk Lesko, President of Irving Shipbuilding Inc, and Vice Admiral (VAdm) Angus Topshee, Commander RCN, were among those on hand to commemorate the occasion and unveil the name of the new class of ships: River-class destroyers. 

Irving Shipbuilding is set to build 15 River-class destroyers for Canada; they will replace the current Halifax-class frigates as well as the capabilities of the retired Iroquois-class destroyers. The first is expected to be delivered to the RCN in the early 2030s and the final ship by 2050. 

Each ship of the class will bear the name of an iconic Canadian waterway, with the first three named for the Fraser, Mackenzie and St. Lawrence rivers. 

The minister described the project as “a historic investment,” and one that represents the largest shipbuilding initiative in Canada since the Second World War.  

He said the project would deliver “modern, deployable, highly capable warships,” adding “this fleet will also be interoperable with our closest allies and partners and shares designs with similar fleets in the United Kingdom and Australia.” 

The Department of National Defence says the ships will have enhanced underwater sensors, state-of-the-art radar, and modern weapons, based on BAE Systems’ Type 26 warship design. 

The goal is to provide the RCN with ships that can ensure Canada’s security and sovereignty in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans, added VAdm Topshee. Addressing the crowd, he stressed the importance of the new fleet.  

“We need to build those ships to make sure that we continue to protect and defend our waters, to assure our sovereignty and security in an increasingly dangerous world.” 

He also remarked on the history of the earlier River-class destroyers that served the RCN in the Second World War, noting that the first two ships to sail from Halifax Harbour to join the Battle of the Atlantic were also named HMCS Fraser and HMCS St. Laurent. 

“To bring those ships back to life is an amazing achievement,” VAdm Topshee said. 

Both VAdm Topshee and Minister Blair spoke on the benefits of having a strong domestic shipbuilding industry. Blair said that “defence policy is also industrial policy,” and added that the federal government estimates building the new fleet will provide approximately 10,000 private-sector jobs annually and will generate billions of dollars in gross domestic product. 

Work on the fleet kicked off with steel cutting live at the announcement – part of an initial test module that will allow for different shipbuilding techniques to be trialed before work begins on the construction of the first vessel in 2025.  

“The construction work that begins today, it’s going to allow for us to test and streamline the building process and prepare for full production next year,” Blair added.  

Canada’s current surface combatants, the Halifax-class frigates, first entered service in 1992. They underwent significant refits and upgrades through the Halifax Class Modernization Project that ran from 2008-2021 and are planned to remain in service until their River-class replacements are ready to sail.