The federal government has authorized an engineering design phase and a proposal that allows the Irving Shipyard in the city to prepare a plan to build the vessels, Public Works Minister Diane Finley said Thursday.
But Finley didn't offer a firm number on how many ships will ultimately be built, saying that up to eight were originally planned but it will become clearer once they have a final design.
"We're still on track to build our original target," she said at the shipyard on Halifax's waterfront.
"This is the final definition stage where we will be identifying the final design, the cost and then we'll have a much better sense of just how many of the ships we will be able to deliver on budget."
Finley said the work has a potential value of $53.5 million and is part of a larger $288-million deal announced last March that divides the design work into seven phases, including engineering and project management.
Construction of the vessels is expected to begin next year.
The federal government has said it plans to build six to eight of the ships, but the auditor general has warned the navy may not get the type nor number of vessels it needs because of cost restrictions.
Irving Shipbuilding president Kevin McCoy said about 200 people are working on the design of the ship with about 60 per cent of those in Canada and the remainder in Denmark.
He expects that number to rise to 500 in the spring with the construction of a facility at the shipyard. He said they're in a hiring phase now for planners, estimators and engineers.
McCoy said the company expects to finish the critical design phase this summer and produce work packages for mechanics by the fall of 2015.
"Between now and August, we will finish that piece that will allow us to provide the government of Canada a solid estimate on what it will cost to finish the ships," he said.