• Crew stand on the bridge of HMAS Dechaineux to welcome HMAS Collins as she returns to Fleet Base West.
    Crew stand on the bridge of HMAS Dechaineux to welcome HMAS Collins as she returns to Fleet Base West. Defence

Two independent studies into the Collins class submarine Full Cycle Docking (FCD) maintenance program have found ‘significant’ strategic and economic benefits of moving this work to WA, according to WA premier Mark McGowan.

The PriceWaterhouseCoopers study found relocating Collins class FCD to WA will "de-risk the Attack class submarine and Hunter class frigate programs." It would also ‘reduce the workforce pressure on SA’, freeing up workers to concentrate on shipbuilding.

The study also found the Osborne Naval Shipyard will face significant constraints while Henderson in WA has room for an expanded ASC facility, and that the WA economy would ‘benefit significantly’ from full cycle docking.

“Moving FCD to WA will grow the defence industry’s capabilities and it is considered best practice to conduct sustainment activities alongside where the submarines are based,” WA Premier McGowan said.

“It is expected to result in hundreds of new direct jobs and will create thousands of jobs at the peak of the program - and will generate billions of dollars for our state over the life of the program.”

“PwC’s key findings demonstrate a strong case that moving FCD is in the national interest,” WA Defence Issues Minister Paul Papalia said.

The program of works is expected to contribute an extra $600 million to the WA economy each year and bring on thousands of jobs, according to the research.

Senator Rex Patrick of SA (and a former submariner himself) is a vocal opponent of moving FCD, saying the move makes ‘little sense’ on numerous fronts.

“Shifting the task to WA makes little sense," Sen Patrick said. "Adelaide is the national repository of submarine build and sustainment knowledge. Adelaide sits halfway between the east and west coast, where both Collins and Future Submarines will be based. It is likely most of the skilled workers at ASC would not move west, which would result in a great loss of Collins submarine corporate knowledge.

"Shifting FCD work to WA would damage the SA economy, impose an unnecessary and heavy additional cost on taxpayers and be damaging to national security.”

ADM Comment: Copies of the report commissioned by the WA Government were not made available to see what assumptions where taken into account. Without this data it is hard to judge the exact details of the impacts of moving the FCD work from Adelaide to the west is. But there is no doubt it would be a boost to the WA economy.

It must be noted at this point that the ASC submarine facility in the west has been operating for more than a decade now and has had substantial investment in its capital facilities. The part of the puzzle missing of course is the skilled and experienced workforce.

The Collins enterprise has moved ahead in leaps and bounds since the Coles review that saw extensive work done by the entire submarine enterprise (ASC, Navy, DMO/CASG) to make huge gains in increasing the capability and reliability of the orphan fleet.

ADM has some sympathy for the points expressed by Sen Patrick in that the maintenance workforce in Adelaide is best suited to undertake the work and the chances of these workers moving west is limited. If work is moved to the west, these SA workers left behind will not be in want of opportunities; the Future Submarine and Future Frigate programs would likely snap them up without blinking.

The other concern is that the next generation of FCDs for the Collins class will include Life of Type Extension (LOTE) program elements; it will not be a straight FCD with substantial work being done to all major systems, ADM suspects. This will be complex and expensive.

Is moving this work, at this critical point, really in the national interest or delivering Navy materiel ready days? Of course it can be done; throw enough time and money at a problem and you can do practically anything. It will come down to a decision at the Federal level as to how it wants to trade off SA/WA jobs vs cost and capability to Navy. In the long run, the move will probably need to happen, but the short term pain will be substantial regardless of timing. Watch this space.

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