OTTAWA - The feds are moving full speed ahead on building new Arctic patrol ships for the navy, awarding a preliminary contract to help advance the ships' design.
"This is the first in a series of contracts leading to the delivery of new ships for the Royal Canadian Navy," Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose said in a statement, as Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced the contract in Halifax on Tuesday.
The $9.3 million contract means Irving Shipbuilding can review the existing patrol ships' basic design and specifications and chart a course for actually building the ships.
Later on, there will be another contract to come up with a final ship design, followed by a contract to actually construct up to eight ships, estimated to cost $3.1 billion.
One military expert says the ships will help Canada be ready to enforce laws and project sovereignty as sea ice melts and traffic increases in Arctic waters.
"For the first time, we really see to a large degree the military getting a capability that's looking into the future," said Rob Huebert, a University of Calgary political scientist and arctic expert.
The ships are supposed to be ready by 2016 - a tough goal, Huebert says.
"Governments can make these things happen fast if they have the political will," he said.
The arctic patrol ships are a small part of a $33 billion project that includes replacing the navy's old destroyers and frigates, providing new Coast Guard ships and building a large polar icebreaker.