ASC Chairman Bruce Carter didn't pull any punches in his opening remarks to the Senate Economics Committee's Inquiry into the Future of Naval Shipbuilding Industry last Friday, as he staunchly defended the record of the shipbuilder and its workforce which had been “amongst the most publicly ridiculed or maligned in the nation”.
“When faced with such adversity, which challenges one’s very existence, the only response can be to produce results to refute and defeat such criticism,” he said.
The submarine and shipbuilding businesses were now delivering at close to or above world benchmarks, according to Carter, and he stressed that both were overseen by separate CEOs and separate Boards and operated in a commercial manner “as if they were owned by the private sector”.
He cited the recent removal of the Collins class submarine program from the Projects of Concern list after a sustained period of availability to Navy in line with international benchmarks.
He also reminded the Committee of the challenges of the Air Warfare Destroyer program, repeating the ANAO’s own assessment that the “initial structure was flawed, especially with the designer Navantia not included in the Alliance”. Despite this, however, “ASC Shipbuilding, along with the AWD Alliance, is meeting all cost and schedule targets since the project re-baselining [in 2015]”.
According to Carter, the business had achieved a 60 per cent improvement on its scope of work between ship 1 and ship 3.
“The quality of the work has been praised by Bath Iron Works in the US, our longstanding capability partner, and builder of many vessels over many years.”
Carter challenged the idea, much discussed of late, that the Commonwealth may turn to a foreign shipbuilder to construct the Sea 5000 Future Frigates.
“It would be inconsistent with other country’s practices for a first world nation like Australia to, as its first step in establishing continuous major warship construction, let its current major warship project run down almost to a halt and then invite in a foreign shipbuilder to carry out the next major project.”
ASC and Austal share the view they can provide a sovereign, low risk and low cost shipbuilding solution for Sea 5000; Carter stressed they were “not seeking to disrupt the Defence approach, rather proposing to subcontract or partner with the winning designer to provide a shipbuilding capability with proven experience in delivering Aegis based warships to the RAN in Australia”.
His mention of Aegis was of course intended to remind the panel of the Government's recent commitment to employ Aegis for Sea 5000, but Carter also emphasised the joint venture's integrated workforces of talented, skilled experienced people.
“ASC Shipbuilding is Australian owned and controlled, staffed by Australians and accustomed to doing business in Australia to Australian standards and Australian operational requirements at world benchmarks,” he said.
“That is as good a definition of shipbuilding sovereignty as I can find.”