A COMPANY that makes small remote-controlled targets for the navy wants to build large training ships in Meteghan River that could deploy the fast-attack simulators like a swarm of bees.
Meggitt Training Systems Canada of Medicine Hat, Alta., has built 50 of its unmanned Hammerhead targets at A.F. Theriault & Son. Now the Alberta company is talking about building ships more than 30 metres long at the Meteghan River yard.
"Now that we’ve been working with A.F. Theriault for five years, I’m very interested in giving them this work," Spencer Fraser, Meggitt’s general manager, said Monday.
The deal could be worth a lot to the western part of the province, he said.
"We’re talking in the tens of millions of dollars, so it’s not inconsequential," Mr. Fraser said.
A.F. Theriault plans to make hundreds of the fibreglass composite targets. But that work employs only about 15 people, so the company is keen to get the contract to build support ships for Meggitt.
"That’s what we’re hoping," said Arthur Theriault, president of the Digby County shipyard. "It was a pipe dream six months ago."
The yard now employs about 130 people but the workforce could grow if the company gets the ship contract.
"It would either add to it or it would prevent you from laying off," Mr. Theriault said.
Meggitt now has proper drawings for the support vessels, he said, and it would take 50 to 80 people to build the ships.
"We’d have to put an expansion on one of our buildings to accommodate that" project, Mr. Theriault said.
"We’re hoping that there is more than one."
Meggitt’s Hammerhead targets retail for $50,000 to $70,000 each. Navies around the world use them to mimic small vessels attacking a warship.
"It’s like the Lilliputians holding down the giant, (or) teenagers swarming an adult in a park," Meggitt’s general manager said. "And that’s what we’re replicating — the swarm threat.
"Literally, it’s like bees attacking a human. You’ve got to swat them at very close range."
Mr. Fraser said Meggitt is looking at building some larger vessels that would carry, for example, 16 Hammerheads.
"When it comes to these bigger projects, it’s absolutely required that (the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) and the province play a role, because the international market’s fickle," Mr. Fraser said. "If we get out ahead of the game and you get down a learning curve, they’ll say, ‘We’ll just buy one from Nova Scotia.’ But if you dither and you wait two or three years, they’ll say, ‘Well, why don’t we just do it at home?’ "
The ships would be similar to the Riverton, a 60-metre vessel used as a support ship during the trials of Canada’s 12 Halifax-class frigates, Mr. Fraser said.
"This would not just be for targets. This would be a training support ship. And yes, there are multiple customers internationally," he said.
"It would provide long-term employment for a lot of people."
Meggitt has taken the idea to the Dexter government and would be looking for incentives to make the project work here.
"We’ve made approaches to the government of Nova Scotia saying, ‘Listen, folks, we think we’ve got a hot item here. You guys have got to get engaged in a big way here.’ Otherwise, Meggitt’s got 8,000 people with $2 billion in revenue. We’re in 40 countries. We could do this anywhere."
Mr. Fraser is a former naval officer who spent 15 years in Halifax.
"I’d like to see the work in Canada, just as my American boss would like to see the work done in the States, and his boss, who’s a Brit, would like to see the work done in the U.K. So, at the end of the day, it’s the guy who comes to the table on these big, big projects with all your ducks in a row and can make the compelling case."
Meggitt has talked to Russell Metals Inc. of Halifax about cutting parts for the shipbuilding project.
"We were quite pleased with what we learned," Mr. Fraser said.
"There’s world-class stuff there."