Minister for Defence Materiel – Submarine Institute of Australia, 6th Biennial Conference

VADM Raymond Griggs, Chief of Navy.

Senior officers of the Australian Defence Force.

Representatives of other military forces.

Ladies and Gentlemen. 

58 sailors in a steel hull 78 metres long, 8 metres wide, hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean for weeks at a time.

That’s why we are here today.

Those sailors rely on us to deliver to them the capability they need to do their job.

It’s an important job.

Submarines are our most important strategic defence asset.

So we must get it right.

The Future Submarine Project will be the biggest and most complex defence project Australia has ever embarked upon. 

It will involve thousands of workers and hundreds of companies.

It will involve Federal and State Governments, Defence and industry, universities and technical colleges working together.

By the time all 12 are built – we will need to replace the first.

That means it’s not like other defence projects.

We are not just building 12 submarines – we are building an industry. 

One that could potentially last for a century or more. 

This is a big and expensive task. Before we embark on it there are a number of questions we have to answer. 

First, why do we need submarines? 

Second, why should they be built in Australia?

And third, how we are going to do it?

That’s what I want to talk to you about today.

1.    Why do we need submarines?

This is a question everyone in this room knows the answer to. 

But it is a question that must be asked and answered. We are talking about a lot of taxpayer’s money. Potentially tens of billions of dollars.

If we are going to invest that sort of money in new submarines we need to explain why we need them and why they are so important.

Australia is an island.

Our geography – the vast territorial sea that surrounds us – is our best defensive asset.

Any country that seeks to attack us has to cross the sea. Submarines make that very difficult.

Submarines are like underwater snipers. Once they dive they are very difficult to detect and very deadly.

They do more than this, but it is their most important role.

Finding them requires an enormous amount of resources.

This makes submarines a very real deterrent to any country thinking about harming us. That’s why we need submarines.

They don’t and can’t do this on their own. They are a part of a layered approach to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare.

But you can’t properly defend an island continent, or its trade routes, without them.

They are integral to the defence and security of Australia.

Our geography also helps shape the sort of submarine we need. 

To do this job submarines need to do more than just sit off the coast of Sydney or Perth. To be effective they need to be able to travel long distances and stay there. 

They need to be able to undertake extended clandestine patrols over the full distance of our strategic approaches and in operational areas.

To do this, a submarine needs to be large.

That’s why we currently operate the Collins class, one of the largest conventional submarines in the world.

If we expect the replacement to the Collins to do similar work, we will require another large submarine.

A large submarine to defend Australia is an expensive enterprise, but an important one. There are no shortcuts.

2.    Why should they be built in Australia?

If we need submarines, the next questions are how many and what sort. 

The answer to the first question is found in the 2009 White Paper. The answer to the second is currently underway. That work is being led by the General Manager Submarines David Gould and Rear Admiral Rowan Moffitt with the help of many people in this room 

I will talk a little more about that in a moment. 

The next question is who builds them. More particularly should we build them here? To my mind, this is an easy question.

The first and most obvious reason we should do as much of this project here as possible is this is a multi billion dollar project – potentially the same size as the National Broadband Network.

It will create thousands of jobs and work for hundreds of Australian companies.

More than this it will create a new Australian industry.

This is not just an ordinary defence project. Most acquisition projects involve the purchase of equipment over a relatively short period of time – and then we maintain that equipment here in Australia.

This is different. It will take decades to build 12 submarines, and by the time the last is built the first will need to be replaced. It’s not a short project. It will go on and on. It will create an industry that could last for a century or more. That industry should be here.

That industry also has flow on benefits. It will build skills useful for other industries and technology that can be applied elsewhere.

It will also build the capabilities and skills of our universities and our technical colleges.

There are also important strategic reasons why we should do as much of this work here as we can.

Given their strategic importance it is important we have an indigenous capability that can design, develop, build and maintain submarines.

That is not something we can or should do on our own. We will need to draw heavily on the skills and expertise of our allies and partners. But we also can’t, and shouldn’t, outsource the whole task to them.

Submarines are not mass produced.  Even the world’s largest submarine builder, the United States, builds on average around one to two submarines a year. 

Building submarines requires intense collaboration between the designers, builders and ultimate users and maintainers. It is very difficult to do this if the project is based overseas.

US and UK experience shows that the best way to build submarines is to slowly evolve their design – to build in batches of three or four. This means obsolete equipment can be replaced and capability upgrades made progressively when equipment has been designed, produced, tested and is ready to install.

If we want a design and construction system that can evolve the design of our future submarines to meet our specific needs, it makes sense for that work to happen here.

3.    How are we going to do it?

The next question is how are we going to do this. This is a project that will occur over many decades but in the next 12 months we will make four important decisions.

Future Submarine Industry Skills Plan

First we will make a series of decisions to ensure we have the skills we need to build the future submarine in Australia.

In December last year, I announced the development of a Future Submarine Industry Skills Plan. 

It will determine the type of skills, the size and the profile of the workforce required as well as the capacity and capability of the Australian shipbuilding industry to successfully deliver the Future Submarine.

I will receive this plan in December and its recommendations will feed into the development of the 2013 White Paper.

Land Based Test Site

The second decision the Government will make involves the establishment of a Land Based Test Site.

The design, construction, setting to work and operation of a submarine is an incredibly complex task. Success relies on reducing risk wherever possible.

One of the key ways to do this is with a land based test site. It is arguable that many of the emergent problems with the Collins Class would have been identified by a land based test facility.

In November last year, Babcocks were contracted to carry out a feasibility study into the development of a Submarine Propulsion Energy, Support & Integration Facility.

This report is still being reviewed by Defence but I can confirm that it makes it clear that such a facility is essential.

The propulsion, energy and drive-train system is a key part of any submarine and a land based test site will enable this system to be developed, tested and proved before it is installed into the submarine. 

Regardless of the submarine design option that is ultimately chosen, this will significantly reduce the risk of delay and cost blowouts, poor availability and increased operating and sustainment costs, loss of capability and most importantly, the risk of a catastrophic accident caused by the power and energy systems.

The report outlines a number of options.

It also recommends locating the facility close to where people with the necessary expertise and skills are located and where the main users of the facility are located.

In the next 12 months we will make decisions about the form, function and location of the land based test site.

Combat, sensors and weapons systems

The third decision is the combat, sensors and weapons systems the future submarine will have.

This is a critical decision. It is crucial to interoperability with our allies and partners.

It makes sense to make this decision early as we did with AWD.

In the AWD project the early decision on the combat systems meant the combat system team could start the development of sub-systems before the ship design was determined and before construction started.

It meant the detailed design of equipment such as compartment arrangements, equipment foundations, main cable routes, and the fundamental space, weight, cooling, power and other services requirements could be determined. 

Trying to design platform and combat systems simultaneously is very difficult, and typically results in increased risk and schedule delays.

Initial pass

Fourth, and most significantly, the Government will make an initial pass decision on the future submarine project.

In May, the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and I announced the approval of $214 million for detailed design studies, modelling, analysis and scientific and technological studies focussed on four options.

This work is proceeding well. It will confirm a set of critical requirements for things such as stealth, range, habitability and interoperability.

Based on this work, more detailed work will occur on fewer options. 

One option that is not on the table is a nuclear powered submarine.

The United States has never exported or leased a naval nuclear reactor.

Acquiring nuclear powered submarines would therefore involve outsourcing the construction, maintenance and sustainment of the submarines to another country.

The submarines would have to be built overseas, they would have to be fuelled, docked, defueled and disposed of overseas. 

That means tens of billions of dollars for acquisition and sustainment over decades that could be invested in Australia, spent overseas.

Building the skills we need to build Submarines

Of the four options on the table, whichever option the Government ultimately chooses – the hardest part of this project will be the start.

Australia has not built a submarine in about a decade and it will be a number of years before construction begins on the future submarine.

A lot of skills and experience have been lost.

If we are going to have submarines and if we are going to build them in Australia we need a skilled workforce to build them. 

That means:

  • systems designers;
  • naval architects;
  • propulsion and combat system engineers;
  • production engineers;
  • project planners;
  • production schedulers
  • systems integrators;
  • welders, boilermakers, electricians and many more.

This is my focus. It’s the focus of the Future Submarine Industry Skills Plan.

Like a land based test site it is critical to reducing risk.

The plan is being developed by a team led by Warren King.

He is being supported by David Mortimer who chairs an expert industry panel that includes representatives of the four principal Australian naval shipbuilding companies and the principal naval systems integration companies.

They have been very busy and have held a number of meetings around the country. 

I have also visited Electric Boat in the US and the British submarine sustainment facility in Plymouth to get a grip on these issues.

As part of the Skills Plan, First Maritime International (FMI) has been contracted to undertake work to determine the capacity, capability and productivity of Australian shipyards.

Their initial observations are worth noting.

They found that the Australian shipbuilding industry is capable, but important white collar skills are spread quite thin.

It also found that while some Australia companies can reach back into their parent international organisations for design work, our indigenous design capability for submarine and surface ships is weak.

It also concludes that the current blue collar work force is limited with production supervisors and electrical trades being the weakest skill areas.

The key to building these skills is a continuous ship building plan with long term, predictable work.

We don’t have this now. Instead we have got a valley of death.

We have got a valley of death between the last AWD and the start of construction of the first future submarine.

It’s a valley where jobs are lost and the skills we need will disappear.

We have had these problems before. After we built the Anzac Frigates there was no follow-on project, and skills were lost. As a result, we had early problems building AWD blocks and most of the LHD’s – 210 blocks – were built overseas.

Contrast that with the work being done on the AWD’s combat system. That work is being done by a proven team. The core of that team were previously working on the Collins combat system.

The result? The team hasn’t missed any of the design reviews scheduled for the first three years of the project.

We now confront the same problems again, but on a bigger scale. We need to fix this.

This is the job of the Future Submarines Industry Skills Plan that I will receive next month.

CONCLUSION

We have to do a lot more than just build a bridge across the valley of death. There are a lot more things we need to do to build the workforce we are going to need and there are a lot of decisions we have to get right to make sure this project is a success.

It’s a big task. 

But we shouldn’t be fearful or underestimate our ability to undertake a task of this magnitude.

There are plenty of reasons to think we can do this.

Think about the Snowy Mountains Scheme. 

It was the biggest project of its era. 

The initial estimated cost of the project was 40 per cent of Commonwealth annual consolidated revenue. 

More than 100,000 people from over thirty countries came to the mountains to work on the project. Up to 7,300 workers were involved at any one time. 

The entire project was completed on time and to budget. It is a great example of Australia’s engineering capability.

In 1949 the Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, described it as “the greatest single project in our history”. 

Back then at that early stage of the project he also made it clear what he thought was required for the project to be successful. He said: 

“It is a plan for the whole nation, belonging to no one state nor to any group or section… This is a plan for the nation and it needs the nation to back it.”  

The future submarine project is just the same. 

It’s a plan for the nation and it needs the nation to back it.

Like any big project there will be naysayers. There always is. 

In 1949, the Minister for Public Works and Housing, Nelson Lemmon responded to critics of the Snowy Mountains Scheme by saying: 

“…those critics, in the main, will be people who have little faith. This Government has faith in its engineers, its people and the future of Australia.” 

This statement is as true today as it was then. 

There will always be those who say that it cannot be done. Those who say just buy submarines from overseas. Those that lack the faith in what Australian workers and Australian industry can achieve.

I don’t have those doubts.

We can do this. And we will. 

We’ll do this with the help of the people in this room.


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