Navy’s new model for surface fleet sustainment is leveraging the work of 16th-century Italian physicist and engineer Galileo for inspiration, in a major rethink of the way upkeep and maintenance is undertaken.
Known as the father of observational astronomy, Galileo championed the notion that the Earth rotated around the Sun, a theory contrary to the accepted wisdom of the day. In a 21st-century parallel, Navy’s Plan Galileo is transitioning sustainment of the surface fleet from current methodology, which supports each class of ship individually and often regards sustainment as itself the primary objective, to an integrated approach with capability as the ultimate goal.
The work is being undertaken by CASG’s Maritime Systems Division, currently led by Rear Admiral Wendy Malcolm, and also takes into account the government’s National Naval Shipbuilding Plan and Navy’s current Plans Pelorus and Mercator, which deal with Navy strategy and the Naval Engineering Strategic Plan respectively.
While older classes of surface ships, such as the Armidale class patrol boats will continue to be sustained under their existing (and bespoke) models, Plan Galileo is intended to be the model for all recently-introduced or future ships, beginning with the Arafura class OPVs.
The Arafura OPVs will spearhead the new strategy, which is expected to develop a national, integrated sustainment environment by 2025. Key principles of Galileo include a ‘cradle to grave’ lifecycle approach to capability and the establishment of a number of Regional Maintenance Centres (RMC), located in Cairns, Darwin, Henderson and Sydney, each with the infrastructure and industrial eco-system to support the fleet.
The concept is one of building synergies across sustainment capability, minimising the duplication of effort that often occurs today, and providing incentive to grow Australian Industry Capability (AIC), particularly in the regional centres.
“Sustainment is as important – if not more important – than shipbuilding itself and will certainly cost more over the longer term,” RADM Malcolm explains. “We believe that the development and delivery of a sovereign sustainment capability is critical to increasing Defence’s self-reliance, delivering on the promise of continuous shipbuilding and ensuring that Navy can deliver the intended capability whenever and wherever it needs to.”
With Capability Life Cycle Management (CLCM) at its heart, Galileo plans to incorporate knowledge, practices and lessons learned, stretching from the design and construction of each vessel through to customer feedback from operational use.
The first CLCM team has already been raised in Western Australia to support the OPV enterprise and is co-located with the OPV System Project Office (SPO), the Navy Capability Manager and first ship’s crew at Henderson.
“They are playing a key role in ensuring the logistics support products, the artefacts, that are coming from the acquisition project are ready and fit for purpose to be brought into the support system, so we can use them to support the ships as they are delivered,” RADM Malcolm explains. “They are embedded with the acquisition team, looking at the greater logistics support and maintenance deliverables. That’s going well; we’re looking to release our next CLCM management Request for Tenders (RFT), for the Hobart class destroyers, later this year and we’re also looking at doing the same for our new Evolved Cape class patrol boats.”
Regional Maintenance Centres
The four Regional Maintenance Centres are being established around the four major naval homeports or support facilities, in Cairns, Darwin, Henderson and in Sydney. The first RFTs, for the establishment of an RMC in Cairns, are currently under evaluation and the first RMC Director has also been recently appointed.
“The embracement of the concept and involvement from both local and national maintenance providers, to look at how they can work together has been terrific,” RADM Malcolm adds. “The idea is that we’ll have a long-term arrangement to provide maintenance for all the ships that are based in Cairns, as well as anything else which may call in.”
The Cairns RMC will set the template and pace for establishment of similar facilities around the country, the second of which will be located at Henderson. An RFT for Henderson is anticipated later this year, with the goal of having a maintenance provider in place in early 2022. The RMCs in Darwin and Sydney will follow shortly thereafter and together they will provide an opportunity to standardise service delivery.
RADM Malcolm says Defence is not looking to engage with a single maintenance provider across all four RMCs. “What we’re trying to do is find the focus in each region to best support and grow the sovereign sustainment capability for Navy at that actual RMC,” she explains. “We’re keen to reach out to those who know and understand the provision of maintenance in those areas, build and further develop the capability in those areas.”
The RMC in Cairns will primarily be responsible for supporting the Arafura OPVs and Evolved Cape class patrol boats in the region, but will also play a significant role in the depot-level maintenance and docking of the Guardian class patrol boats. While the facilities are being established as a ‘one-stop shop’ for naval sustainment needs, each will be tailored to the specific region and ships it will support.
“We have different challenges in different regions. Cairns and Darwin for example are very much focussed on patrol boat and smaller vessels, which often have less-complex systems than a major surface unit, and typically undergo shorter but more frequent maintenance periods,” RADM Malcolm adds. “We’re now looking at Henderson and Sydney and their requirement to support the very complex integrated systems in our major surface combatants and also their ability to undertake very complex upgrades to insert new capability into those ships in the future.”
CASG currently has 15 separate SPOs to look after its surface fleet and these will remain in place, responsible for the allocation of required maintenance activities to the respective RMCs.
The RMC model is intended to grow industrial capability around each hub and CASG is now engaging with industry to evolve the existing commercial model and tailor supply chains to each region where possible. The work will also develop a more strategic contract approach across suppliers which currently have their products in several classes of ship.
“This is trying to take a wider approach to our systems support, so that you have really good, incentivised supply chain contracts here in Australia that provide a long-term view, so that companies can invest, but also provide a more affordable approach to sustainment,” RADM Malcolm explains. “We are also looking at opportunities across both shipbuilding and sustainment.”
Plan Galileo is also carefully considering the infrastructure required in the future to support activities at each RMC, given the tonnage of Navy’s ships will increase by around 130 per cent between now and 2040 under the continuous shipbuilding plan. Henderson, for example, is a site which supports both ship construction and sustainment, and RADM Malcolm’s team is working closely with the WA State Government to determine what infrastructure will be needed.
“The WA Government has also invested heavily in the infrastructure at Henderson, they’re building new hardstands, new transfer paths for the ships to move along and designs for new wharves,” RADM Malcolm adds. “We’re looking at things like, whether we need a graving dock or a floating dock there, or how we dock or build a new ship that’s perhaps even as big as our tankers and LHDs in the future.”
Transition to Galileo
The transition to the new sustainment model offered by Plan Galileo is being managed carefully and is being done incrementally, rather than being changed all at once. As existing contracts become due for re-tender or updating, the opportunity to appoint a CLCM is being considered, but this will not apply to some of the older ships in the fleet, such as the Huon class minehunters (MHC), which are due to be withdrawn in the near future and the cost of transition therefore outweighs the benefit.
“Our focus for the current phase is to have all the foundation stones in place, across transition, seaworthiness, asset management, RMCs and our supply chain, by 2022,” RADM Malcom says. “I want to see that implementation plan delivered by the end of 2022 and for it to be a mature organisation by 2025.”
The challenge of upskilling both Navy and industry to support the new sustainment model is also being explored, through initiatives such as the Naval Shipbuilding College and recent Defence Industry Pathways Program, established together with the South Metropolitan TAFE in WA.
Finally, it must also be noted that, while it transitions to Galileo, Maritime Systems Division is still responsible for the day-to-day upkeep of the existing surface fleet, a task recently made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve worked really closely with industry to make sure we have been able to meet the fleet availability requirements, both nationally and internationally, and we’ve continued to meet all our maintenance obligations, we’ve continued to upgrade the ships and supported large exercises like the multi-national Talisman Sabre 21 exercise,” RADM Malcom says.