The Department of Defence (Defence) seeks approval from the Committee to proceed with the Land 4502 Phase 1 Additional CH-47F Chinook facilities. The proposed works will provide shelters and supporting infrastructure for three additional CH-47F Chinook helicopters and associated staff growth for 5th Aviation Regiment at RAAF Base Townsville, Queensland.
In 2016, Defence received approval to acquire three new CH-47F Chinooks to support 5th Aviation Regiment training and operations. These CH-47F Chinooks are now in service and based at RAAF Base Townsville and are operated by the 5th Aviation Regiment.
Defence notes that the CH-47F Chinooks form an important part of the Australian Defence Forces’ (ADF) airlift continuum being able to provide the largest troop and equipment airlift of any helicopter in the ADF, and enable capability and personnel to be quickly airlifted in and out of operational areas. RAAF Base Townsville does not currently have sufficient facilities to support the additional CH-47F Chinooks.
The estimated cost of the project is $49.9 million (excluding GST).
The project was referred to the Committee on 23 August 2018.
Subject to Parliamentary approval, design activities are expected to be completed by late 2018. Construction activities are expected to commence in early 2019 and be completed in late 2020.
Conduct of the inquiry
Following referral, the inquiry was publicised on the Committee’s website and via media release.
The Committee received two submissions and two confidential submissions.
On 9 November 2018, the Committee conducted a site inspection at RAAF Base Townsville. On the same day, the Committee also conducted a public and in camera hearing. A transcript of the public hearing is available on the Committee’s website.
Need for the works
In its submission, Defence stated that following the acquisition of the three new CH-47F Chinooks, the 5th Aviation Regiment does not currently have facilities to support these additional Chinook helicopters.
Defence also noted that without the appropriate facilities the CH-47F Chinooks are exposed to the corrosive Townsville environment, there is no space for the additional personnel required and logistical support elements are not consolidated.
Defence explained that Townsville is a salt laden environment and being able to get the aircraft out of such an environment quickly was important:
If you can get an aircraft out of a salt-laden environment within about an hour and reduce the humidity below a critical point, corrosion was found by the Defence Science and Technology Group to stop.
Defence noted that these factors could contribute to a reduced operational life of the capability and inefficiencies in the support elements of the CH-47F capability.
Scope of the works
The proposed project will provide facilities for three functions which directly support the new capability:
This will involve construction of new and refurbished facilities to meet the storage, security and working accommodation and infrastructure needs following the acquisition of the additional CH-47F Chinooks.
The scope of works is divided into five functional areas:
Two CH-47F Shelters. The project proposes to provide two additional CH-47F shelters that will be sited to make maximum use of existing apron and proximity to maintenance hangars; an existing shelter will house one CH-47F. The shelters are also sited and sized to provide future growth opportunities as well as use of land that would be otherwise unsuitable due to noise and airfield obstacle clearance surfaces.
Consolidation of CH-47F supply support functions. The project proposes to provide a Supply Support facility that has the same dimensions and structure as an aircraft shelter. This structure will still meet the requirements for Supply Support, but will provide future flexibility and value for money through a structure that could convert to an aircraft shelter in the future if required.
Working accommodation for additional personnel. The project proposes to make maximum use of existing buildings to meet the working accommodation requirement associated with the increase of 44 personnel. This will see minor works primarily in the Unit's Chinook Maintenance Facility (Building 804-which was delivered in 2017) as well as use of the Unit's C Squadron Headquarters (Building 802-which was refurbished in 2016) to meet this requirement.
Car parking for additional personnel. The project proposes to address the Unit's car parking requirements through provision of 57 car parking spaces. This comprises 44 spaces for additional personnel, and 13 compensatory spaces for car parks displaced through the infrastructure works. It is proposed that the majority of the additional car parking spaces be provided through an extension to the north of the existing main Unit Carpark, with the remaining provided at the Unit central carpark.
Aircraft parking for three CH-47F. The project proposes to deliver additional tarmac parking for the three additional CH-47F. The additional CH-47F tarmac parking is proposed to be delivered adjacent to the existing Chinook tarmac parking.
Cost of the works
The estimated cost of the project is $49.9 million (excluding GST). This includes management and design fees, construction costs, information and communications technology, furniture, fittings, equipment, contingencies, and a provision for escalation.
In its submission, Defence noted that there is expected to be an increase in operating costs as a result of the proposed works. This is due to the new facilities requiring computers, estate upkeep, utilities costs and allowance for future repair and maintenance of furniture and finishes.
Defence provided further detail on project costings in its confidential submission and during an in-camera hearing.
The Committee is satisfied that the costings for the project provided to it have been adequately assessed by the proponent entity.
The Committee sought clarification from Defence about the involvement of small to medium enterprises in projects such as this.
Defence noted that in their contracts they include a local industry capability plan, where prime contractors bidding for work need to submit a plan that details how they intend to engage with local industry and ensure that local small to medium enterprises are given a chance to bid on a project.
In its submission, Defence states:
The proposal will generate short-term employment opportunities predominately in the building, construction and unskilled labour markets in the Townsville area. It is expected that approximately 50 personnel will be directly employed for the duration of the construction activities, which will also generate some off-site job opportunities through the manufacture and distribution of materials over the construction period.
Defence further noted that they anticipate that local sub-contractors would be employed on a large proportion of the construction works.
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
In responding to a question about PFAS, Defence noted that they routinely test for PFAS, particularly on Air Force bases where it is highly likely that the foams that contain PFAS have been used.
For RAAF Townsville, the levels of PFAS in the soil were very low which will enable the soil to be stockpiled on the base or re-used in a future construction project.
Defence clarified that the levels of PFAS detected in the soils were concentrations ranging from 0.0002 milligrams per kilo to 0.0738 milligrams per kilo and these concentrations are well below the human health screening criteria.
The Committee did not identify any issues of concern with the proposal and is satisfied that the project has merit in terms of need, scope and cost.
Having regard to its role and responsibilities contained in the Public Works Committee Act 1969, the Committee is of the view that this project signifies value for money for the Commonwealth and constitutes a project which is fit for purpose, having regard to the established need.
The Committee recommends that the House of Representatives resolve, pursuant to Section 18(7) of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, that it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work: Land 4502 Phase 1 Additional CH-47F Chinook Facilities project.
Proponent agencies must notify the Committee of any changes to the project scope, time, cost, function or design. The Committee also requires that a post-implementation report be provided within three months of project completion. A report template can be found on the Committee’s website.