Sovereignty, workforce development and Collins Class Life Of Type Extension (LOTE) permeated the Submarine Institute of Australia’s fourth Submarine Science, Technology and Engineering Conference (SubSTEC4), providing an update of progress on Australia’s Future Submarine and efforts to ensure there is no capability gap before the new fleet enters service in the early 2030s.
Around 300 international and local delegates from Defence and industry attended the conference from November 13 to 16, with Federal Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne reiterating in his opening address that “every submarine will be built in Australia by Australians” and stating his belief that Australia “will become an export nation for shipbuilding”.
Defence Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG) General Manager Submarines, Rear Admiral Steve Johnson (US Navy, Retired), used his keynote address to assure industry that involvement in the Future Submarine supply chain will be a different experience from that of the original Collins. Johnson said building the first of fleet would be followed by “a strategically longer interval to get all the lessons learned” before continuing with the remaining 11 boats.
“Construction of the first future submarine will ramp up in 2023,” Johnson said. “There will be a three-year gap between the construction of the first, second and third future submarines respectively. Our goal is to have a sovereign supply chain which is healthy from the beginning of the program to the construction of the last future submarine.”
“There will be some items that we just never build here,” Johnson told the Adelaide audience. “A practical example is the main motors; unlikely to be built here because they’re so hard to do and we need 13 over 40 years. It’s just not viable.
“There will be components that we build overseas, but remember the strategy of sovereignty is that with each and every request for proposal and each and every contract that we let, the requirements for sovereignty are embedded. And so in that example of the main motor, it will be integrated here, tested here, installed here, sustained here.”
Johnson also assured industry that the Future Submarine build will see its supply chain as a critical element that must be preserved, with the Commonwealth looking at business options to help smooth revenue flow across the process.
“It will be a combination of things that we do with each contract on each subject,” he said. “And we’ll either start them early, allow an early delivery date, just standard business bridging techniques. I highlighted that to make sure that the small and medium enterprise representatives in the room understood from the very beginning that we know that we have to manage the industrial base.”
But he was adamant that in decisions of supply chain sovereignty, the buck stops with the Commonwealth.
“We have two primes, Lockheed Martin and Naval Group Australia,” he said. “They have design contracts. They will make recommendations, but ultimately, particularly with respect to supply chain, we will take their recommendations but we will decide on sovereignty in supply chain. The views of those companies and their recommendations will be thoughtful and well considered, but the decision on sovereignty is a government decision.”
Commodore Tim Brown, Director General Submarines for Navy Strategic Command, said Collins Class availability was continuing to improve, with the fleet achieving 105 per cent of required availability for both rolling 12 months to date and in-month target availability markers, and 106 per cent for the 2017/18 cumulative year to date availability target.
Greater availability is enabling more involvement in experience-building deployments and training, with a surge in qualified submariners as expansion to a 12-submarine fleet begins.
“We have now got to the point where we’re qualifying 90 submariners a year when our traditional number was round about 50 through the force,” CDRE Brown said. “It’s important to highlight that this growth has effectively been underpinned by the availability we have achieved in the fleet, alongside a deliberately differentiated employment package.
“From a navy point of view we have to grow one extra submarine crew every two years. So our planning horizon isn’t deep in to the 2030s, our planning horizon is in to the mid 2020s, because that’s when we have to start the process and have it cemented in place so that we can achieve that ongoing success.”
While CDRE Brown detailed crew strategies, CASG’s Director of the Collins Class Submarine Program, Brad Hajek, updated delegates on the proposed Life of Type Extension (LOTE) for Collins.
Through a scoping exercise that began with the Service Life Evaluation Program in 2012, CASG’s three working groups on platform system, combat system and signatures have identified 122 “significant activities” to be refined to create a LOTE program. Half the identified activities involve the Collins Class hull, mechanical and electrical systems, with 21 relating to its signature, 14 to the combat system and 12 to the main propulsion system.
“The LOTE definition stage, which is the next phase of this project, will refine these selected activities to optimise,” Hajek told delegates.
For planning purposes the team has proposed LOTE programs for HMA Ships Farncomb, Collins and Waller. Each would include a two-year full cycle docking and refit, followed by a full 10-year running cycle with HMAS Waller the last to leave service in 2042.
Hajek said the scoping studies were not designed to freeze the Collins at one specification for its final decade in service, but would maintain systems development including “continuation of combat system spiral development with the US, the inclusion of technical refreshes and capability enhancements utilising future submarine specifications as an aiming point within the constraints of Collins”.
“Navy ultimately has to advise Defence and Government how many boats it needs to recommend to life extend and we’ll be doing that in the next little while,” CDRE Tim Brown said. “But we will not be having a capability gap.”