VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA â€” France, concerned that US firms have the inside track on billions of dollars worth of future naval contracts, is lobbying the Canadian government to consider all options for its new surface fleet. French firms, including shipbuilder DCNS, want to pursue contracts for the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) program, the future fleet that will replace the countryâ€™s destroyers and frigates. Although a Canadian shipyard has already been selected to build the vessels, contracts to provide weapons, systems integration and warship design can be expected to be let in the future. But French officials say they are concerned that US companies, particularly Lockheed Martin, already have the inside track. Lockheed Martin has said it is interested in handling weapons and systems integration for the CSC fleet and will pursue that contract if, and when, the Canadian government proceeds with that project. â€œWhat weâ€™re asking for is a fair and level playing field,â€ said one French industry executive. â€œWe are concerned that is not what will happen.â€ Lockheed has already been selected to handle systems integration for a new fleet of Arctic/offshore patrol ships being built for the Royal Canadian Navy by Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax. Irving is the firm that will also construct the CSC fleet. French President FranÃ§ois Hollande visited Canada Nov. 2-4 for the first time, noting that France is interested in playing a key role in Canadaâ€™s naval rebuilding plans. Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also announced that the two countries had finalized a technical arrangement to establish a Franco-Canadian Defense Cooperation Council. French industry sources say they are hoping the Canadian government will be open to non-US equipment and designs for the CSC as well as run an open competition for systems and weapons integration for the warships. Canada hopes to build 15 CSCs that will form the backbone of the future Royal Canadian Navy and cost an estimated CAN $25 billion (US $24 billion). The weapon and systems integration for CSC is expected to make up a large part of that price tag. The first CSC is expected to be delivered in 2023. The last ship will enter service in 2035. The French say they are worried about the Navyâ€™s reliance on US contractors and weapon systems, saying that will set the stage for a CSC fleet largely outfitted with American-made equipment. They point to Canadaâ€™s decision in October to become involved in the development of Raytheonâ€™s next generation Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM). Canadaâ€™s Halifax-class frigates are already being modernized with the current version of the missile. But the next-generation ESSM would extend such a weapon system to at least 2030. The European consortium MBDA was interested in the potential of providing missiles for the CSC, but Canadaâ€™s decision to sign on to the next-generation ESSM program all but ensures that weapon will be on the new surface combatants, industry sources say. â€œItâ€™s a domino effect,â€ said a French industry source. â€œOnce you have committed to those weapons, you then need US interfaces and other systems to be installed.â€ Annie Joannette, spokeswoman for Public Works, the federal organization overseeing procurement, said the department is still working on determining the best way forward on the CSC project. Industry consultations were held throughout 2013 and 2014 and Irving Shipbuilding is assessing the competitiveness of the draft requirements of the Canadian Surface Combatant, she added. No procurement strategy has yet been selected for the future fleet. â€œThe decision with regard to the best competitive procurement strategy for the CSC will be made by ministers,â€ Joannette said. She did not have a time frame for when the decision would be made. Although construction of the vessels is still years away, the Navy hopes to begin initial work on the CSC project, including examining weapons systems and sensors, next year. Vice Adm. Mark Norman, head of the Royal Canadian Navy, has said the Canadian Surface Combatant fleet will be â€œthe jewel in the crownâ€ of the countryâ€™s future maritime force. Mike Barton, spokesman for Lockheed Martin Canada, acknowledged that the firm has had a 35-year relationship with Irving Shipbuilding and is already working closely with Irving on the systems integration for the new Arctic/offshore patrol ships. But he said it is â€œwildly speculativeâ€ to suggest that the company would be selected to work on CSC. â€œLike everyone else, weâ€™re waiting for direction from the government on the path forward,â€ Barton said. The Canadian government has not yet decided whether to leave the selection of subcontractors for systems integration, radars and weapons to Irving or to make such selections itself. Over the past two years, DCNS has tried to increase its presence in Canada, with a view of playing a key role in CSC. DCNS is proposing that Canada use the FREMM multipurpose frigate as a design for the future fleet. The FREMM ship, Aquitaine, visited Canada in April 2013 as part of those efforts. DCNS delivered the ship to the French Navy in November 2012. In November 2013, then-DCNS Chairman and CEO Patrick Boissier visited Canada to conduct meetings with domestic companies and highlight his firmâ€™s desire to expand into Canada. In April 2014, DCNS incorporated a wholly owned Canadian subsidiary, intended to develop naval engineering and industrial partnerships in the country. DCNS Technologies Canada, with headquarters in Ottawa, would lead the design of the Canadian version of the FREMM frigate if the design is selected, company officials say. Canada was among export prospects for the DCNS FREMM in a study by the French Defense Ministry, CIDEF trade body and consultancy McKinsey, presented to the Summer Defense University conference in September. Source: France to Canada: Buy Weapons From Us, Not From Americans | Defense News | defensenews.com â€œOperational use of equipment by the French armed forces helps deliver credibility and support for their export,â€ was the headline on the export page.