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Op-Ed: Strategic update from Naval Group Australia program director Graeme Bent

Australia’s Future Submarine Program is on the cusp of an exciting new phase as a new and modern shipyard rises from the ground and preparations are put in place for Attack Class construction.

Australia’s Future Submarine Program is on the cusp of an exciting new phase as a new and modern shipyard rises from the ground and preparations are put in place for Attack Class construction.

Significant progress has been made at Naval Group Australia since the historic signing of the Strategic Partnering Agreement with the Commonwealth of Australia in 2019, as we focus on delivering 12 of the world’s most advanced conventionally-powered submarines. 

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These submarines will serve the country long into this century, employ thousands of Australians, grow sovereign capability and provide an incalculable boost to the domestic innovative capacity. 

When hull qualification section construction starts at the new Osborne shipyard in 2023, Australians will begin to see with their own eyes the result of hard work our teams are currently putting in to design the Attack Class submarine, advise on development of a state-of-the-art new shipyard in Adelaide, build new sovereign supply chains and create a skilled workforce for the future. 

This is a unique and highly-sophisticated project.  

With around 1 million parts, there is arguably nothing that humans make which is as complex or technologically challenging than a modern submarine. 

Australia has chosen to go about that critical mission in a unique and far-sighted way.  

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It has recruited Naval Group to do much more than produce a new fleet of submarines that will patrol the nation’s borders, and create local jobs and innovation, over decades.  

Australia has recruited Naval Group to help safeguard its future sovereignty by boosting and creating the fundamental capabilities which are needed to design and build submarines here. 

Naval Group has been building submarines in France and around the world for a very long time. We have a century’s experience in that industry and learnt, and innovated, a lot over that time. Naval Group is now transferring that knowledge, technology and capability to Australia. 

In November, Naval Group delivered the first-in-class Barracuda submarine to the French Armament General Directorate. It is a step-change in submarine capability, equipped with cutting-edge technology and exceptional stealth capabilities. Delivery of the six in class will occur over a decade. 

What is being designed for Australia is a different submarine, to meet the unique demands of  Australia’s geography and performance requirements. But Naval Group’s long experience and global  reach mean we can provide Australia’s future submariners with the most up-to-date technology that  exists. And we will be at the forefront of the next innovations in the future. 

In January, the Systems Functional Review was held. This is a technical review to ensure a system's functional baseline is established, and that requirements can be satisfied.  

This design process is important to ensuring Australia has regionally-superior power at sea. 

At least 60 per cent of the contract value for the 12 new Attack Class submarines will be spent in Australia, and that commitment has been included in the program’s Strategic Partnering Agreement. 

There will be increasing levels of Australian content in each Attack Class submarine. That means hundreds of jobs throughout new national supply chains. 

In October, Naval Group Australia announced a local manufacturing package worth almost $900 million and sought expressions of interest from Australian businesses to deliver more than 20 key pieces of highly-sophisticated and mission-critical equipment for inclusion in the Attack Class.  

We received more than 120 responses to be partners in delivering this critical submarine machinery. 

Contracts for major critical subsystems including main DC switchboards, the weapons discharge system, diesel generator rectifier and main electric propulsion equipment have been awarded. 

These suppliers are also committed to establishing partnerships with Australian industry and will engage local industry on components and opportunities for assembly, test and installation. 

The enthusiasm of Australian industry is clear, and we have teams of people working with them to build the new skills and business capabilities required to maximise participation in the program. 

At Naval Group Australia, we remain on track to create 1,700 direct jobs during submarine construction and have scaled up rapidly in the past year to a workforce of almost 300. 

We have 20 apprentices who are getting on-the-job experience out in the community under a host business program, ensuring they are ready when Attack Class construction begins. They are just the first class of the many welders and tradespeople who will be employed with us, over decades. 

We have also sent about 40 Australian engineers to France to work alongside Naval Group’s experts and teams there. They are gaining critical experience which can be brought home and put to work on delivering the Attack Class for the Royal Australian Navy. These groups of pioneer engineers will be essential in helping train the next waves of Australian submarine designers here at home. 

A new submarine construction yard is today being built at Osborne in Adelaide. We expect it to be among the best in the world, and give Australia’s submarine builders the support they need. 

Naval Group has worked closely with Australian Naval Infrastructure, which is responsible for the shipyard’s construction, since the first sod at Osborne north was turned in December 2018. 

Early works on the fabrication and assembly halls have begun. 

Construction has advanced on the Platform Land-Based Test Facility, which is on schedule for hand over to Naval Group Australia next year.  

The PLBTF is an important innovation.  

In that building, we will verify and refine the performance of critical Attack Class submarine propulsion systems including batteries, electrical switchboards, motors and generators.  

This will allow examination of the submarine’s main propulsion train in a controlled environment, before inclusion into the overall platform, to maximise efficient operations. 

Getting it right, from the start, is an important part of our plan to achieve excellence in execution. 

The Attack Class is a critical capability for the nation, and Naval Group understands the responsibility we have been given in this important task. The foundations are in place to deliver a truly exceptional class of new submarines, made in Australia, that will underwrite security for generations.

Graeme Bent is the program director, Future Submarine Program, Naval Group Australia

Op-Ed: Strategic update from Naval Group Australia program director Graeme Bent
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