Build in Australia
Given the weight of the evidence about the strategic,
military, national security and economic benefits, the committee recommends
that the government require tenderers for the future submarine project to
build, maintain, and sustain Australia's future submarines in Australia.
When selecting its preferred tenderer the government must
give priority to:
Australian content in the future submarines; and
proposals that would achieve a high degree of self-reliance in
maintaining, sustaining and upgrading the future submarines in Australia for
the entirety of their lifecycle.
The acquisition of future submarines is a large and complex design and
construction program, which demands personnel with unique skills and
capabilities augmented by practical experiences in this area of expertise. In
the committee considers whether Australia has the capacity to build submarines
if so, the advantages of a local construction. It also gives particular
attention to whether the future submarine, because of its vital importance to
Defence's capability and its complexity, should be built in Australia in order
to maintain it effectively throughout its operational life.
Expertise and skills in Australia
In March 2013, Defence published its Future Submarine Industry Skills
Plan, which was the result of a study on the current state of naval
shipbuilding in Australia, undertaken by an expert industry panel chaired by Mr
David Mortimer. The panel assessed the capacity of Australia's major shipyard
to deliver the ships in the Defence Capability Plan (DCP) including the future
submarines. It concluded that:
...Australia has a
strong cadre of people who can build complex systems and construct warships.
Australia has good skills in the development and integration of combat and
platform management systems. Australia has also developed world-leading
submarine-systems in areas such as electronic warfare and sonar. These skills
have been built up over several decades, benefitting from the continuity of
work and challenge of successive projects.
Shipyards have the
facilities to build the warships required, although some investment would be
required to develop launch points for the larger supply vessels.
Capability and capacity
Most witnesses disagreed strongly with claims that Australia did not
have the capacity or capability to build the ships in Australia. Many drew on
the Collins experience to demonstrate that a submarine workforce could be built
up from a low base. Moreover, some argued forcefully that Australia was in a
better position today
to start a submarine build program than it was almost 30 years ago for the
For example, Mr Whiley noted the knowledge that had developed over the
last 25 years, which began with 'approximately 150 ASC engineers and designers
embedded in Kockums, the original Swedish Collins class designer, working on
Australia's first-of-class submarine'. From this engineering base, ASC
a through-life support engineering capability for the submarine. Mr Whiley
explained that it was able to do so because ASC was intimately involved in the
original design and build process.
Australia is much
better prepared than it was in the 1980s, when it was decided to design and
build Collins. Since then we have learned and achieved so much. We have
developed a quarter of a century of submarine capability and knowledge. We have
developed key technical and supply chain capability across Australia and we
have learned to work together effectively as one team and we are now ready to
help deliver the separate solution for the future.
While the Submarine Institute of Australia (SIA) noted that submarines
were costly and required advanced levels of skills to operate and sustain, it
drew attention to the combined effort that had gone into developing a
formidable submarine force in Australia.
Commander Frank Owen similarly pointed out that Australia had invested a lot in
its capacity to sustain and upgrade its submarines and was justified in feeling
very proud of the result.
The committee has detailed the problems that beset the Collins class
submarine until recently.
The committee has noted, however, the strides that ASC have taken to improve
its performance on the Collins sustainment program since Coles commenced his
review in 2011.
Mr Andrew Sudholz, who has worked at ASC for almost 23 years and started
as a rigger, noted the 'fantastic changes in the infrastructure of the
submarine facility' that have come online in the last few months making ASC
much more efficient.
He noted that the full-cycle docking of HMAS Farncomb was 'on track to
be completed in half the time it has taken in the past'.
Indeed, committee members saw this work taking place during its site visit to
ASC, Osborne. Members toured the three-storey dry dock maintenance support
tower that replaced the old scaffolding. This innovation allows workers easier
access to the submarines and has provided
a definite boost to productivity. Mr Sudholz indicated that:
The learning achieved
and experience gained in the Collins project leaves me in no doubt whatsoever
that, given the right design, the next generation of submarines can be built
here in Adelaide efficiently, delivering a product which will give the
Australian Navy the capability it needs to keep this amazing nation secure.
The people who work on the submarines gave compelling evidence of their
ability not only to maintain but also to build the future submarine. In Mr
Whiley's view, the maintenance work on the Collins was 'probably harder and
to work on than build' and, in fact, that the work carried out in full-cycle
docking was 'very, very akin to a build'. He argued that ASC's workforce was
more highly skilled than it was during construction and described some of the
innovative and highly skilled work being undertaken on the Collins: 
...we have section 100,
which is the aft end of the boat, cut off, and we had the main motor—a 40-tonne
motor—removed from the boat, to go and do the maintenance. If you had been here
15, 17 or 18 years ago [during the build stage], you would have seen a very
similar scenario, with sections of submarine apart, just like you saw today. So
it is very akin to a build environment, the way we are doing maintenance today.
We are taking the equivalent outside to the platform, refurbishing it off the
platform and reassembling it, as opposed to doing the maintenance on the
platform inside the equipment. So it is a different philosophy from a
maintenance perspective. And, to do that, we have had to generate the seventh
and eighth boat set of parts to have that rotated, to a full set of parts going
to the platform.
Mr Burns also drew attention to some of the significant changes that
have recently taken place with the maintenance program for the Collins. He
refuted the notion that Australia had lost the capability to build submarines
and likewise referred to the new technique of cutting open the submarines to
gain access to the motor.
He argued that such an exercise was not just maintaining submarines:
When you can cut open
a submarine and put it back together, those are build skills.
Mr Hamilton-Smith noted that the Collins was an outstanding product and
...the South Australian
government feels that the country has successfully built both naval ships and
submarines in South Australia using overseas designed technology transfer; and
now, with even more experience under our belts, there is no reason Australian
industry and Australian workers cannot do it again.
According to Mr Hamilton-Smith, although there were some problems with
technology transfer, 'we have done it before and can do again'.
Mr Whiley also referred to the considerable submarine support network of
Australian companies and organisations supporting the Collins class program
including universities, subject matter experts, strong capability partnerships,
ongoing relationships with government research establishments, such as DSTO,
and a highly sophisticated network of industry partners. He elaborated:
Our industry partners
include specialist submarine support businesses—such as Babcock, Pacific Marine
Batteries and MacTaggart Scott—approximately 120 small to medium enterprises
and more than 2,000 associated companies that supply products and services. In
fact, ASC manages one of the largest and most complex supply chains in
Based on the evidence presented to the committee and independent
studies, there can be no doubt that Australia has a substantial and solid
foundation on which
to build a competent and highly skilled workforce for the construction of the
There are numerous advantages that flow from building naval ships
in-country, especially the highly complex and strategically important vessels
According to Commodore Greenfield, an Australian build should be no more
expensive than an overseas build. He stated that:
A sail-away cost of
$20 billion for 12 submarines built in Australia is entirely feasible, and
Australian industry has much to offer in solving the truly unique engineering
Consistent with Commodore Greenfield's estimate, Professor Roos informed
the committee that it would cost the same to build submarines, no matter where
they were built, which is $400,000 per tonne for the modern submarine.
He stated further, for 'all modern submarines, the number is actually
$400,000 plus or minus 16 per cent', no matter when or where they were built.
Because it will cost no more or no less to build the submarine in
Australia or elsewhere, such as Japan or German, the cost would be $20 billion.
The cost estimates of Commodore Greenfield and Professor Roos have been
confirmed recently by one potential bidder for the Future Submarine Project—Thyssen
Krupp Marine Systems.
TKMS CEO Phillip Stanford told ABC Radio that his company could build
the new submarines for $20 billion in Australia:
believe we can deliver 12 submarines of the size and capability that Australia
requires, in a price of $20 billion, and that's an indicative price, and
includes all the programmatic aspects to deliver the submarine in Australia.
Saab Kockums—another submarine builder—has also said they want a chance
to be part of a competitive tender:
If there is an open competition, Saab Kockums will be in it.
We can compete in the battle for affordability.
In its report on the new supply ships, the committee also considered the
broad benefits, including the economic advantages, to be gained from an
indigenous naval ship building and repair industry. For example, Mr Simon
Kennedy, Adelaide Ship Construction International and Smart Fabrication, wrote
of the positive returns on investment from shipbuilding in Australia:
Every dollar spent on
a ship or submarine within Australia goes further than the initial transaction.
Australian primes engage Australian manufacturers who engage Australian
subcontractors. The training and development required to build the ships and
submarines not only contributes to our local economy, but also our local
knowledge and skills base.
An ASC paper on Australia's shipbuilding industry also noted the many
advantages that flow through to the national economy from investment in the Australian
naval industry—an advanced manufacturing, high value-add sector.
The paper referred to studies on the economic effects of projects such as the
ANZAC Frigate and the Coastal Mine Hunters projects showing that 'basic
benefits to the national economy from in-country construction are nearly double
the value of
the investment'. Taken together with the flow-through effects of in-country
construction, it argued that 'the human capital generated by large projects and
innovation spill-overs from in-country design and development work, contribute
substantially to the national economy'. It also referred to generating
innovation and thus creating even greater spill-overs.
According to the Australian Industry & Defence Network Inc, naval
shipbuilding directly employs some 6,000 people and indirectly nearly 15,000
people. It stated further:
The industry makes a
contribution to the Australian economy of between (conservatively) $1.5 billion
up to around $2.3 billion (based on total multipliers) per annum.
Around 7,400 full
time equivalent (FTE) jobs across Australia can be attributed to the production
of naval vessels by the five largest prime contractors in the industry. In
addition, up to 7,560 FTE jobs can be attributed to the activities associated
with through life support of naval vessels.
In the Network's view, more often than not the Defence Department's
value for money (VFM) criteria only considers the short term acquisition costs
and this drives procurement often to an overseas supplier. Furthermore, that 'a
more holistic "Whole of Life" VFM criteria would ensure a more
realistic appraisal of competing bids'.
The ACIL Allen report to the Australian Industry Group, Naval
Shipbuilding Through Life Support, produced the set of figures quoted
above, including the potential $2.3 billion contribution from naval
shipbuilding and through-life support to the economy. This report also noted
other significant economic benefits—technology transfer, transfer of expertise,
and improved practices in areas such as quality assurance, business planning,
sub-contracting and dealing with Defence.
It drew attention to the 'hidden but real, financial costs that are
likely to arise if a decision is taken to source ships from overseas or between
different approaches to Australian design, build and sustainment'. One of the
key considerations was the possible additional costs to maintain the vessels
throughout their service life.
Some witnesses directed their comments to the specific contribution that
an in-country build of the submarines would make to Australia's economy.
Looking back at the Collins, Commander Owen argued that building the submarines
to be an enormous fillip to Australian industry, providing 'tax clawback and
benefits to the economy that were significant and long-lasting'.
Two witnesses produced statistics concerned solely with the contribution
that a submarine build would make to Australia's economy and workforce.
Professor Roos argued that it would be more expensive for the economy to buy
the submarines overseas.
Professor Roos said that the overwhelming conclusion was that it would
cost no more to build locally.
This was partly because Australia has a unique set of operating
environments and requirements so there is no off-the-shelf solution available,
and partly because there are only four potential international partners to
build the submarines (Germany, France, Japan and Sweden) and they are all high
cost countries. According to Professor Roos:
The conclusions on
these very conservative assumptions is that Australia as a country is at least
$21bn better off to build in Australia than to purchase overseas in addition to
creating 120,000 man years of additional jobs in the economy over the life of
the project as compared to building overseas.
Dr Peter Brain quoted the same figures on the benefits to the economy
from building the future submarines in Australia.
He explained that the findings were based on the following
numbers—12 submarines are purchased all built in Australia or all built
overseas. The cost for the 12 submarines is $21 billion. Two assumptions
underpin the calculations:
the expenditures for the submarines are offset elsewhere by
reductions in expenditures that otherwise would have been done if the
submarines had not been purchased, and that reduction is independent of whether
it is built here or built overseas; and
there are adequate resources to allow the submarines to be built
efficiently (resources that will be released by the motor vehicle contraction
or alternatively the similar skill resources likely to be released by the
downturn in the construction-for-mining industry and also the mining industry
The committee notes the importance of taking into account the broader
economic benefits that accrue to the economy from having naval ships built in
Indeed, the committee noted in Part I of its report on Australia's naval
shipbuilding industry the many and significant benefits that flow through to
the economy from the construction of naval ships in country. They included: the
establishment and further development of a strong industrial base supported by
a skilled workforce; expanded indigenous research and development, design,
production and management capabilities; and extensive technology transfer
across a broad spectrum of activities.
There are also savings to be considered that may derive from being
better able to support the vessels throughout their operational life.
Through-life sustainment and upgrades
Submarines are no different from other highly complex or large naval
vessels in that their operating and sustainment costs far outweigh the original
purchase cost. According to Rear Admiral Briggs, in broad terms it is generally
one-third to build, two-thirds to own and operate.
When considering the costs of an acquisition, industry participants
emphasised the need to take account of the through-life expenses which may be
many times greater than the initial cost of acquisition. Mr Andrew Fletcher,
Defence SA noted the significant through-life support costs as compared to the
...one of the
challenges before our nation is for the Defence department to seriously look at
whole-of-life-cycle costing when making procurement decisions, because
generally whole-of-life-cycle sustainment cost is up to two, three or four
times the procurement cost, so you get a very different answer if you model
whole-of-life-cycle costing versus the initial procurement.
Some witnesses held that there was a strong and direct connection
between the build cost and operating and sustainment cost. For example Rear
Admiral Briggs suggested that what is learnt through build enables greater
efficiency in sustaining.
According to Rear Admiral Briggs, if you have the capacity in country to
maintain and evolve, you are much better able to manage the cost of ownership. He argued:
... if you focus only
on build costs, that is in fact a false economy, given you are focusing on a
cost that is one-third of your total project and also a cost that is likely to
lead to a more efficient procurement and operation of your sustainment costs.
In other words, if the focus is not on the total cost of ownership from
the beginning, there is the risk of purchasing a submarine that 'might be
cheaper to buy but much more expensive to operate and own'. Hence, according to
Rear Admiral Briggs, the taxpayer ends up 'paying a lot more for it in the long
Commander Owen agreed that the true cost in a Defence program is its
Mr Fletcher also stressed the point that the initial penalty for upfront
procurement in Australia would be defrayed, if the 'whole-of-life-cycle costs
and the information, knowledge and skills base is preserved and maintained for
future upgrades and sustainment of those vessel'. Likewise, Mr Hamilton-Smith
argued that the decision to build off-shore 'will cost the Commonwealth
government far more through the full life cycle than any possible savings made
in the initial procurement'.
Submarines and national security
The size and nature of the Australian continent requires a particular
focus on the strategic issues that govern our maritime environment. As an
isolated island nation with vulnerable northern approaches, Australia attaches
great importance to its capability to defend its land mass and secure its sea
lanes. Australia's physical environment with its expansive coastlines and long
exposed trade routes dictates that Australia retains an independent,
self-reliant and effective maritime capability.
Many witnesses argued that Australia not only needs a potent naval force
but must be able to maintain and upgrade that force if it is to keep Australia
secure into the future.
In Part I of its report, the committee considered the security aspects
related to the actual construction of naval vessels. It noted that to fulfil
its primary role to protect the national interest, Defence must ensure that it
has control over the capability and technology needed to secure operational
independence in areas vital to Australia's defence. For Navy, that means that its
fleet must be equipped to best meet the security challenges it confronts.
Many argued that to do so, Australia needs an indigenous shipbuilding
industry and a domestic capability to support Australia's naval ships and their
systems throughout their working lives. For example, the Australian
Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU) argued that the capability of Australia’s
naval shipbuilding industry was 'foremost a national security issue as well as
being an issue for our economy and our manufacturing industry'.
Evidence taken since then soundly reinforced the contention that
sustainment of naval vessels is a strategic capability in itself.
Mr Jackman maintained that a 'vibrant and sustained naval shipbuilding
industry of all shapes and forms is vital to our self-reliance'. The
Australian Business Defence Industry acknowledged that while matters dealing
with financial multipliers, economic activity, employment and the retention of
important skills were important considerations, the principal focus should be
on those aspects that are associated with the mitigation of high strategic
risk. It argued that governments need to consider investment decisions on
'strategic grounds, not ideological grounds'.
The committee has heard the central role that submarines have in
promoting Australia's national interests—particularly protecting its sea lanes
and covert surveillance and intelligence gathering during times of heighten
With regard to the submarine industrial capacity in Australia, the SIA
argued that it would be virtually impossible to sustain the submarine
capability at an effective level without the Australian submarine building
industry and its supporting industries. It advocated that Australia build on
the submarine capacity it has fought hard
to establish. It suggested that Australia integrate, assemble and sustain the
submarine force 'using the best, most cost-effective and relevant technology';
and, most importantly, that it preserve its sovereignty to ensure the safe and
secure conduct of its future submarine operations. In the SIA's view, it seemed
highly likely that this could 'only be achieved in an assembly facility in
Dr White, with 40 years' experience in naval shipbuilding and major
infrastructure projects, noted the advantages of a local build. In his opinion,
if you are going to build the submarines here, there are tremendous advantages,
almost necessities, in building the first one here.
With highly complex combat vessels, such as a submarine, many witnesses
rejected the notion that the ships should be built overseas. They argued that
in order to have the skills and experience to maintain the vessel, they must be
built in Australia. Professor Roos reasoned:
We will be the only
country using this type of submarine with this type of capability and this
means that we will be the parent navy for these things, and that means we have
to do it here with the associated capacity, for which we have learning.
Many witnesses said that for national security reasons it was imperative
for Australia to build the submarines in Australia so that it would have the
resident knowledge, skills, know-how and infrastructure needed to sustain and
upgrade the boats throughout their long service life. Some raised concerns
about potential threats to the submarine's supply chain in times of tension
when Australia's trade routes may be under threat or no longer available.
In this regard, Commander Owen suggested that 'if we are completely
reliant on the supply of technology and perhaps components from overseas beyond
what we have managed to stockpile then the implications could be quite
significant'. He clearly indicated that the building of the new future
submarine project in Australia was the best option for this country. Commander
Owen took the committee back in history to 1981 and the lessons learnt from the
Oberon, which were submarines operated by Australia but built in the United
Kingdom. He explained:
We were second
cousin, twice removed of the logistics support capability surrounding that
submarine. When the host nation stopped operating them, the supplies dried up
and we had occasions [where] submarines were unable to sail because of vital
components and spare parts that were unavailable.
We determined at that
time that the best way to achieve that sort of logistical self-reliance...which
was to achieve reliability in our defence capability—was to build them in
Australia so that we would have far greater access to any industry that could
support it with the components that it had actually provided.
He strengthened this case for the need for self-reliance with examples
of other submarines—the Brazilian and the Canadian forces—where their whole
supply chain dried up. In his view:
...if we lose that
capability, the ability to sustain and upgrade the future submarine as the
capability evolves becomes limited to working from a workshop manual rather
than having a deep understanding of the intellectual issues that underpin the
design of that capability.
Rear Admiral Briggs and Commodore Roach maintained that the experiences
with the Collins class submarine demonstrated that 'the required transfer of
technology can only be gained through the construction of the first submarine
in an Australian shipyard and that the associated risks could be successfully
Rear Admiral Briggs also highlighted the importance of having the
'in-depth capacity to unravel and understand a problem and do a fix; to not
have to go back to someone else's capital city and find that they are busy
Commodore Greenfield stated that in order 'to be able to effectively
modify, upgrade and enhance our submarines, our industry must be intimately
involved with the design, philosophy and designer's intent, to truly understand
the submarine and what can and cannot be done to it'. He similarly underscored
the need for Australia to ensure that it is self-reliant in sustaining its
fleet of submarines. He gave a similar example of the vital need to be
When companies who
support our submarines are getting phone calls in the middle of the night or
the middle of the day from a submarine at sea saying, 'Help, we can't diagnose
the fault and it's a serious one,' they do rely on our industry. Our industry
is there all the time to support our boats. Submarines of the type that we
have, the big heavy submarines, probably spend about half their time in
maintenance. There is no getting away from that...You also cannot get away from
the fact that you will suffer some defects and you need instant access to
people who understand and can diagnose and fix them. You will not get that from
The committee has referred to the reticence of overseas countries to
make available their most advanced technology. In this regard Professor Roos
In this global
environment, the only way that Australian submarines can develop and maintain a
capability edge is if the submarines are built in Australia and fitted with
high-end, secret technology through Australian Eyes Only programs which are
continuously funded through the service life of the fleet. These technologies
would be targeted towards specific areas—stealth techniques, signal processing,
and commanding officer’s tactical aids—anything that gives our submarines an
edge. We have done this before with ultra-quiet pumps, acoustic tiles, special
sonars, and so on. Failure to do this will mean Government embarrassment in the
least and a tragic loss at the worst.
Mr Glenn Thompson, Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union, agreed with
this view. In his experience, greater problems arise when maintaining a vessel
that 'you do not build'.
He cited the current major refit going on one of the Collins class submarines.
The whole back end of
that vessel has been dismantled. The drive chain and the piping—some 7,000 pipes—have
been removed. If we had not built that vessel we would not have the skills and
the capacity to perform such work. We agree with the comments that retired Rear
Admiral Briggs and Commodore Roach have made with respect to that. It is better
to build to ensure that you have the skills to maintain.
Mr King agreed that Australia could build the submarines, but noted it was
'very much a government decision'.
Recently, he informed the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation
...there are all sorts
of matters that come into play in selecting who is going to ultimately design,
build and work with us on our submarine. They go beyond price and they go
beyond their assessed ability to deliver; they go on to strategic
relationships, interoperability and on and on. So there are a number of factors
that come into play in the process that you may go through to acquire this
The committee believes that the submarines are in a class of their own
and the link between ensuring Australia's close involvement with all aspects of
its acquisition and sustainment is strong.
The committee has already noted that investment in infrastructure may
have long-term benefits for the costs in maintaining and upgrading vessels:
that by constructing vessels in Australia, the economic costs of maintaining,
repairing and refitting large naval vessels throughout their operational lives
could be reduced.
Thus the savings generated by having the infrastructure available for
the maintenance and upgrade of the Navy's fleet should be a major
consideration. But the argument about through-life support also extends to the
know-how and the skills base needed to sustain and upgrade the fleet.
If Australia is to maintain and modernise its naval vessels, it needs an
experienced, knowledgeable and productive workforce to repair and service these
vessels throughout their operational life.
A key strategic priority is the capacity to deploy independent naval
strength into the oceans surrounding the continent and maintain control of the
long maritime approaches and at the very least deny the control of such
approaches to potential enemies.
The committee notes that there are practical constraints in achieving
complete self-sufficiency in the supply and maintenance of Defence assets and
the degree of control will differ according to the strategic importance
attached to the asset.
But not having assured access to domestic capabilities in such a
critical strategic asset as a submarine would compromise Australia's
independence undermining Australia's national security.
Indeed, some witnesses made a direct and strong connection between the
construction of the submarine and the development of the skills base needed for
its future support. They argued that local involvement in the build would set
the necessary foundation for the submarine's future through-life support.
The complexity of the submarine and its critical role in Defence's
capability strengthens the link between having it built locally and its
maintenance and upgrade over the length of its operational life. Indeed, a
number of witnesses noted that the submarine was one of the critical Defence
assets where reliance on overseas suppliers could compromise operational
independence and ultimately Australia's national security.
Experts giving evidence to the committee strongly argued in favour of
building the future submarines in Australia.
The only way to ensure that Australia has access to the very best
technology and is assisted by capable and reliable partners who share
Australia's commitment and ambitions is through a competitive tender. Anything
short of this process would be folly and place the future submarine at
Given the weight of the evidence about the strategic, military, national
security and economic benefits, the committee recommends that the government
require the tenderers for the future submarine project to build the submarines
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