Navy has a massive task ahead of it with the biggest recapitalisation of its fleet since WWII on the cards. It is moving from policy to reality with a range of activities to make sure that Australia gets the most out of the $90 billion continuous program of shipbuilding work.

This century has seen significant Australian investment in more complex military systems. This is driven by the Government’s commitment to supporting global security initiatives, evolving threats from conventional armed forces and the rise of asymmetric warfare. It was also driven by the ADF’s decision to embrace its Joint Force initiative.

Providing integrated capabilities across all domains in a more contested battlespace demands more complex weapon systems, and with it, more innovative asset management. Former Chief of Navy Vice Admiral (Rtd) Tim Barrett enunciated Navy’s approach to this challenge through Plan Pelorus, which describes Navy’s strategic intent, and Plan Mercator, which provides strategic guidance for the evolution of the RAN and transition to the Future Navy out to 2036.

“Navy has a crucial role in supporting Government policy and we must continue to evolve and prepare for a myriad of operational possibilities,” VADM Barrett said to ADM. “Plan Pelorus provides direction to question the status quo, to innovate, and to act.”

Plan Pelorus defines seven goals that Navy is working to achieve by 2022 that will enable Australian vessels to conduct sustained combat operations as part of a joint force:

  • To be fully crewed at sea and staffed ashore, able to train for future demand, and prepared for continued growth.
  • Able to deter, deny and defeat adversaries in the face of evolving threats and challenges.
  • With the joint force, able to operate effectively with Australia’s allies and like-minded partners.
  • Able to provide sea, air and cyber-worthy platforms to the Chief of Joint Operations.
  • Optimise resources to enable the conduct of all activities and future commitments.
  • Able to maintain a long-term presence away from home ports.
  • Able to meet all domestic requirements and work closely with friends and partners across the Indo-Pacific region.

Plan Mercator addresses the strategy for delivering Navy Capability that meets the needs of the Australian Government to 2036 and beyond. It encompasses logistics, capability programs, facilities, industry participation, seaworthiness, workforce and warfighting. The Plan identifies Navy’s future threat profile to include: 

  • information warfare
  • theatre anti-submarine warfare
  • integrated air & missile defence
  • amphibious combat

Based on his experience in the Fleet Air Arm where asset management of aircraft is more advanced and more immediate than other branches of the RAN, VADM Barret envisioned a future Navy where new vessels could be conceived, crews could be trained, and ongoing support and modification could be developed through a land-based simulation of each class of vessel. He named this concept Ship Zero. VADM Barrett described a number of lessons that led him to arrive at the concept of Ship Zero.

“Development of the training facility for the MH-60R Seahawk ‘Romeo’ naval combat helicopters impressed me with the way they treated the aircraft as just one component of an integrated combat system,” VADM Barrett said.

“I was also impressed with the Singapore Police Coast Guard facility, which delivers excellent training. A trainee could start as a new recruit and graduate as a fully competent crewman, ready to undertake operational tasking.

“Another motivation was our need to send people all over the country to complete small boat crew training. It was expensive and disruptive, both to the Navy, to trainees and their families. While some Ship Zero functions may need to be virtual, colocation at a capability centre will eliminate most of that disruption.

“In the future, Navy must be able to achieve through-life management of the whole of fleet, including training, sustainment, a seaworthiness and airworthiness framework, and even pre-planning the obsolescence phase. This will help planners make better decisions throughout the Capability Life Cycle (CLC). A land-based test site will greatly assist during development of new platforms. Rather than waiting until the first vessel is in the water, Ship Zero will enable Navy to start the process from the start of each new program. This more disciplined approach will help to develop more efficient and more effective capabilities and can even be used during certification,” VADM Barrett explained to ADM.

“Looking forward, this may well change the way people are recruited off the street. Having a clearer pathway throughout a seaman’s service life will help to select the best people for each role.”

Continuous Naval Shipbuilding program
A Continuous Naval Shipbuilding program was announced in April 2016 by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. This has given a renewed focus to Australian shipbuilding activity that will continue for many decades. As well as the economic benefits, the continuous shipbuilding program aims to develop a more agile and more adaptable Navy.

Just as the Air Force has moved away from a regulated environment to a new management framework based on airworthiness, Navy is adopting a similar approach. Plan Mercator aims to increase seaworthiness across the fleet by requiring future Navy programs (beginning with the Arafura patrol boats under Sea 1180 and the Hunter class frigates under Sea 5000) to implement the Ship Zero concept.

A report from the Rapid Prototyping Development and Evaluation (RPDE) program in December 2016 addressed Fundamental Inputs to Capability (FIC) considerations regarding the establishment of Ship Zero. This was followed by Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) Systems Engineering Faculty workshops that defined Ship Zero outcomes and functions. The workshops called for a Ship Zero Operational Concept Document (OCD) to provide context to Navy Capability Program Sponsors defining what Ship Zero may look like when implemented in their Programs.

The OCD identifies seven key functions:

  • material sustainment
  • capability specific training
  • logistic engineering support
  • management of capability assurance and evolution
  • support for the personnel who provide the capability
  • professional skills development and organisational learning
  • development of tactics, techniques and procedures.

Organisations, infrastructure, facilities and assets such as a headquarters, land-based test sites, training, through-life and crew support facilities will be required to support these functions. Their implementation will depend on the nature of the supported capability, in particular: its mission set, its support systems and the cost to implement. What will be critical is the relationship between each internal organisation, the external supporting systems, the broader Australian Defence Organisation and Australian Defence Industry.

Author of RPDE’s report, Rear Admiral Neil Perry outlined the benefits that Ship Zero will bring to future programs.

“This initiative will bring all FICs together, providing a more complete view of each capability. As a capability centre, it provides a reliable single source of knowledge throughout each Capability Life Cycle,” RADM Perry said.

Commodore Phil Spedding, Director General Navy Program Support & Infrastructure outlined to ADM what he sees as the key benefits to the Navy.

“The purpose of Ship Zero is to enhance the ongoing life-cycle management of our capabilities. It will remove many of the uncertainties and risks associated with the introduction of new platforms into service. It will optimise resources and will enable through-life continuous improvement.

“Ship Zero will achieve this through the coordination, and where appropriate, colocation of administrative, through-life support and capability-specific training organisations. Ship Zero provides the ‘centre of excellence’ for the vessel, submarine or other significant capability, and supports a more efficient and more effective asset management approach,” CDRE Spedding said to ADM.

Lieutenant Commander Craig Shaw, Staff Officer Projects 2 – Navy Infrastructure Plans, describes the Ship Zero concept as an organisational construct of command, sustainment and people.

“Ship Zero will give Navy reliable oversight throughout the Capability Life Cycle. It can’t be viewed as just one element of program delivery. It is a systems program office (SPO) delivering through-life support, a land-based test site, a production support facility to provide combat system assurance, individual and collective class-specific training in all competencies, a headquarters to provide FIC management. It will provide all of this, and more,” LCDR Shaw said to ADM.

“Ship Zero reduces the need to deliver training on board ship as crews will be fully prepared for their roles before taking up their posts.
“To support the realisation of Ship Zero, facilities are being developed to foster relationships between Defence organisations and with industry. While the aim is to achieve a campus environment, in some cases it may be a federated collection of facilities to support different elements of a capability,” LCDR Shaw said.

Ship Zero OCD
The Ship Zero OCD describes three exemplars of how the framework can be applied across the entire life cycle. They loosely reflect the main types of shipbuilding that Navy will need to support over the next 30+ years:

  • design and build of a non-complex surface vessel with a modest scope for capability growth
  • continuous design and build of a non-complex surface vessel with a modest to medium scope for capability improvement
  • continuous design and build of a complex vessel with significant scope for capability improvement.

The first three Ship Zeros will fit these examples. They are planned for the Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vessel (ACOPV), the Hunter Class Frigate and the Attack Class Submarine programs. The OCD has informed the first programs, Sea 1180 and Sea 5000, which are currently developing their detailed plans.

CASG has appointed Captain Anthony Savage as OPV Transition Director and Ship Zero lead.

“We see close alignment of training, command and sustainment functions for the Arafura and Hunter programs that will benefit from colocation, though this is still subject to approval. And with the transition from Anzac-class to the Hunter-class expected to extend across a 15–18 year period, early implementation of Ship Zero will deliver benefits to both platforms,” CAPT Savage said.

Captain John Navin, Director Mine Warfare, Hydrographic and Patrol supports the drive for a more rigorous synthetic training environment for the ACOPV program; “one that is fit for purpose and that delivers a high fidelity training experience to accurately represent the real world.”

CAPT Navin sees the development challenges going beyond the simulation of large systems such as engines, steering and weapon systems.

“Simulation training for these systems is well established. Ship Zero will need to help prepare our crews for new and more dynamic activities,” CAPT Navin said. “As an example, take the way we will launch and recover sea boats on the Lürssen designed and built ACOPV. The ACOPV will be the first Australian Navy vessels to launch and recover sea boats via a stern ramp. Addressing these new skills and procedures through targeted up-front ‘type’ training, including high fidelity simulation, will greatly reduce the operational risks associated with introducing new systems of this nature into service,” CAPT Navin explained.

“My Directorate (DNIP) has been developing, with the Estate and Infrastructure Group (E&IG), the facilities components of Ship Zero for these two projects,” CDRE Spedding explained. “The efforts are complementary and so we are planning on a coordinated build program, utilising shared facilities where it makes sense to do so.”

A national approach
At HMAS Stirling in WA, Navy Training Systems Centre (West) will provide individuals with Class specific training, and host collective training for both the Arafura Class OPV and the Hunter Class Frigate. This will include classrooms, part-task trainers, and simulators.

At the Australian Maritime Complex in Henderson WA, a Capability Centre will support Navy and CASG staff overseeing construction of the OPV and will then manage through-life support of both ship classes. The Capability Centre will include office space and crew support facilities. With the long transition from the Anzac to the Hunter, the intent is to relocate staff of the Anzac SPO and Surface Combatant Group into the new Centre.

At Osborne SA, a facility will be built adjacent to the Shipbuilding Yard to house Navy and CASG staff overseeing construction, an Administrative Centre (Navy HQ South Australia) for personnel serving in the State, and one of the important elements required to support the evolution of the combat systems for our new ships: the Land Based Test Site – Production. It is in this facility that the elements of the ship’s combat system will be brought together and tested prior to installation in the ships.

At St Kilda, SA, the other key element to support the evolution of the ship’s combat systems, the Land Based Test Site (Development and Sustainment). It is here that Navy, CASG and Industry will undertake the work required to sustain and evolve the ship’s combat system through-life, and to manage obsolescence and changes in threats.

CDRE Spedding emphasised that the National Shipbuilding Program is an enterprise endeavour, where development of these facilities is just one element.

“My team and E&IG are building the facilities. The fit-out of the facilities, and the way they will be utilised in bringing Ship Zero and ultimately Sea 1180 and Sea 5000 to realisation is the challenge that the Project teams and CASG have to manage. This is not the responsibility of any one individual, instead it will take an enterprise approach to realise Ship Zero,” CDRE Spedding said.

This article first appeared in the October 2019 edition of ADM.


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