In his first public response to the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report disclosing delays in the Future Submarine program, Naval Group Australia (NGA) CEO John Davis has described the contents as a fair reflection of work to date, confirmed lost time will have been made up by the next contractual milestone, and pointed out that the ANAO had clearly recognised the establishment of a firm framework within which the program would progress.
Released on 14 January this year, the report disclosed that the $80 billion program, Australia’s largest-ever defence procurement, had missed two key milestones so far.
However Davis, whose background includes Air Warfare Destroyer construction and senior technical and project positions with the UK Ministry of Defence involving nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines, said it was important that the program was subject to scrutiny, and the report, which has been generally reported by media as critical of NGA, was welcome.
“There are a couple of things which I personally drew from the report,” Davis said to ADM.
“The first is that the ANAO were quite insightful in recognising that what they saw in terms of the framework that had been set up for the program was good. With these major programs there is always a conspiracy of optimism with people barrelling in and not taking the time to get the foundations right.
“I think the ANAO were clear in their observations that the framework has been put in place as the result of a very determined and very detailed approach.
“The report as a whole is a fair reflection on the program. It didn’t make any specific recommendations and that is good; the critical things that need to be in place are in place.”
The report disclosed that the mandated Concept Studies Review that was scheduled to begin in September 2018 did not start until November 2018, and was completed in February 2019.
The Systems Requirements Review (SRR) began in December 2019, five weeks behind schedule and was completed in January this year, Davis confirmed. Some actions from that review had still to be closed, he said.
The Systems Functional Review (SFR), which will define the major layouts for all the major items of equipment, will make up that shortfall and start as contracted in January 2021 following agreement in two weeks of just-concluded meetings involving NGA, Defence, and combat systems integrator Lockheed Martin Australia.
The ANAO commented that the Future Submarine program was dependent on Defence establishing an effective long-term relationship with NGA, and Davis agreed the converse was also true.
“We have a good relationship, we’re collaborative with Defence but if you look at the lifecycle relationship I’d describe it as ‘forming, norming and storming’ – we’re still in the forming stage and that’s to be expected.
“We’re 12 months out from signature of the overarching Strategic Partnering Agreement (SPA) and we’re learning together how you implement that and the conditions within it over its 50-year life. The SPA is not something that you put in the bottom draw and forget straight away, this is something you’ve got to work hard at for years to come, a decade or more.”
Davis described the future Attack class submarine as a thoroughbred.
“The requirements of this boat are like no other boat in the world, there isn’t another submarine it can be compared with. Endurance, range, speed, stealth, lethality, all of those.
“From a design perspective it’s proceeding very well and I wouldn’t expect anything else.”
The national benefits of the Future Submarine program in terms of industry capabilities and careers were yet to be communicated effectively to Australians, and issues with security clearances were affecting the accessible skills market – both for Australian citizens, and for specialists from France, Davis added.
Note from the Managing Editor: The program has come under intense scrutiny for its involvement of Australian industry in the early phases of the program, particularly from SMEs. NGA has been clear from the beginning that the process will take time. The Attack class industry roadshow at the Pacific trade show last year went into great details about the two year process from engaging with NGA to winning work.
It should also be noted that there are no mandated levels of Australian Industry Capability (AIC) for any Defence program but aspirations as laid in publicly available AIC plans. In fact, Lockheed Martin Australia has a public AIC plan for Sea 1000 but NGA does not have one listed at this time.