High-calibre speakers focus on future of submarines at conference
A stellar line-up of speakers has, collectively, looked into the short and medium-term future of Australia’s submarine fleet on the first day of plenary sessions at the 9th Biennial Submarine Institute of Australia (SIA) Conference 2018, which is being held in Canberra.
The theme of the conference, Collins life-of-type extension – issues and opportunities, was reflected in the Opening Address, which was delivered by Australia’s Assistant Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon David Fawcett.
Senator Fawcett said the lessons learned in the early stages of the Collins class submarine program – and the subsequent Coles Review – have proven to be pivotal in ensuring that today, Collins is one of the best of its type in the world.
“I would argue that Coles and his report should be required reading, not just for submariners – for anyone who is involved in the procurement of complex military systems,” Senator Fawcett said.
“It makes for sobering reading how there were many dysfunctional relationships among stakeholders.
“The work that Coles did was to say we need to take a ‘whole-of-enterprise’ approach.
“As relationships have improved, we have seen a more ‘joined-up’ approach. We have also seen good Australian ingenuity come to the fore.
“What has been validated is that Collins is a good boat – it is very capable.
“It is truly a world-leading capability in its space and it’s going to have an impact for years to come.
“We are going to need to extend the life of the Collins class submarines.”
The next speaker was the Head of the Future Submarine Program in the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group within the Department of Defence, Rear Admiral Gregory Sammut AM, CSC, RAN.
With a Strategic Partnering Agreement between the Australian Government and the design partner of the Future Submarines, Naval Group Australia, still to be signed, Rear Admiral Sammut provided information about progress.
He said: “We have had a ‘Design and Mobilisation Contract” in place with Naval Group for the Future Submarine for some time.
“The Design and Mobilisation Contract was signed in September 2016.
“We are still negotiating the Strategic Partnering Agreement, which needs to take into account many different things.”
Rear Admiral Sammut said the build of the first Future Submarine would commence in 2023 and it would be delivered in the early 2030s.
The afternoon’s presentation from Naval Group provided insights into how it is viewing the negotiations.
The Chairman of Naval Group Australia, M Jean-Michel Billig, said: “I could not end my speech without saying a few words about the negotiations for the Strategic Partnering Agreement.
“I am the lead negotiator.
“Yes, the negotiations are tough. Yes, the negotiations are ongoing and are about to be concluded very shortly.
“The Design and Mobilisation Contract allows the work to continue on time and on budget while the Strategic Partnering Agreement negotiations are taking place.”
Also on the list of speakers this afternoon was Australia’s Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan AO, RAN.
There was a strong theme in Vice Admiral Noonan’s presentation about workforce development, similar to several other speakers at the conference today.
“I’m delighted to say that as we sit here, we have a growing submarine force which is approaching 800 men and women, and the future is very bright,” he said.
“We will probably need to grow to about three times that amount.”
The final speech of the day was delivered by the Shadow Minister for Defence, Hon Richard Marles MP.
Mr Marles provided insights into how a future Labor Government, should it be successful at the next election, would approach policy that directly relates to submarines.
“If given the chance, a Shorten Labor Government would take the Future Submarine very seriously,” Mr Marles said.
“A Shorten Labor Government would be committed to building 12 submarines in South Australia by Naval Group.
“It is imperative that there is no capability gap in the transition from the Collins class submarine to the Future Submarine.
“There must also be no gap between the Future Submarine and competitor submarines.”
Mr Marles signalled that if Labor wins the election, soon after, it would undertake a review of where the Future Submarine Program is up to.
Mr Marles was critical of the decision made in April 2016 to only down-select one design partner for the Future Submarines.
The Director General Submarines, Royal Australian Navy, Commodore Tim Brown RAN, provided two stand-out stories during today’s presentations, both of which provided glimpses into the future for Australia’s submarine force.
Commodore Brown said: “The Commanding Officer of the 10th Future Submarine could have either R2-D2 or C-3PO (characters from the Star Wars movies) standing next to him.”
Commodore Brown also revealed the navy is going to trial an internet café on the Collins class submarine HMAS Farncomb within the next 12 months.
The conference commenced last night with an Opening Reception where the winner of the SIA Award for Engineering Excellence 2018 was announced.
It went to HMAS Farncomb’s Lieutentant Martin Lee, RAN. Lieutenant Lee will be presented with a special medal.