Australia’s Future Submarine Program began with a bold ambition that’s typical of our country, writes Naval Group Australia chairman David Peever.
As an island continent looking to secure our position in the world we decided not only that we needed a new fleet of advanced submarines, but that we would make them here ourselves.
What we have collectively chosen to do is a national endeavour on a scale incomparable to any other building program Australia has embarked on. It is a unique opportunity to not just acquire the best submarines in their class but to bring to Australia the know-how that’s needed to build them, and develop sovereign defence industries by fostering a new generation of local skills.
And, as Australians, we backed ourselves in to do just that.
Naval Group has a long and proud history. We have built submarines and surface ships for over four centuries, sustaining sovereign capability. The proposition we offered to Australia during its search for a submarine design and build partner was the ability to transplant those capabilities here.
Work has begun and proceeded at pace since the Strategic Partnering Agreement was reached in 2019. A new shipyard is under construction in South Australia, by program partner Australian Naval Infrastructure, and it is custom-designed to optimise efficiency of the Attack Class build.
The design of a uniquely Australian submarine is also progressing, to ensure the Royal Australian Navy has the particular capabilities it needs for future missions at sea. New national supply chains are being built, as the transfer of technology and knowledge to Australia proceeds and we maximise the local content, which will be included in the first and subsequent Attack Class submarines.
This is all being done in partnership with the Commonwealth of Australia, including staff who share our offices at Port Adelaide, and combat system provider Lockheed Martin Australia.
Naval Group operates in 18 countries, delivering submarines and surface ships with its systems and services to over 50 navies. It is a group that employs more than 15,000 people and has access to the world’s best technology, including the superior stealth capability that distinguishes Naval Group submarines. Naval Group Australia was established as a distinct local subsidiary, created with the sole focus of delivering the Attack Class for Australia in a team effort with program partners.
Our local staff are in constant contact with colleagues in France, sharing their experiences.
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Despite the pandemic and the closing of the borders, Naval Group keeps advancing the program thanks to the fantastic mobilisation of the teams in both countries.
But as this transfer of capability from France to Australia progresses, it has been important for our local company to grow and renew as the Future Submarine Program matures and our contribution takes on an increasingly Australian character.
I was honoured late last year to be appointed as the first Australian chairman of Naval Group Australia. The team is deeply committed to its task, and fully aware of the responsibility we carry in delivering this most critical capability for the nation’s enduring future security.
Our board already had the benefit of insights from people like the distinguished former Chief of Army Ken Gillespie. He knows well what our frontline men and women expect from us. His counsel has been extremely valuable, and ensures that we keep this ultimate destination front of mind.
To that strong foundation we have added even more local knowledge and experience. At the time of my becoming chairman, Kim Gillis and Chris Jenkins also joined the board.
Kim has an exceptional record of service with the Commonwealth, including as Deputy Secretary of the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group. He understands the processes and requirements of our customer and partner. That assists us to continue delivering to the brief we’ve been given.
Chris comes from the world of defence industry, having held senior roles in Thales both locally and internationally for over 20 years. He knows about supply chains, and what local businesses require in terms of communication and support to maximise their participation in major defence projects.
Recently, we also added the expertise of former Finance Department Secretary Jane Halton. She has distinguished herself across roles in government and business, as well as becoming a trusted and informed voice over the past year as the nation grappled with the complexities of COVID-19.
Naval Group now also has a new executive vice president for the program in Lilian Brayle. As a dual national of Australia and France who spent years living and working in Sydney, he is perfectly positioned to understand the local and European contexts to ensure our teams are fully aligned.
On the ground, this same shift in gravity toward Australian operations is also occurring.
We are adding new local staff every week, and pursuing an aggressive workforce ramp-up ahead of submarine construction. Our existing team ranges from apprentice welders to experienced engineers, and we have a strong focus on diversity to maximise the available talent.
Our direct workforce in Australia is on a path to 1700-strong during the construction phase.
Our $900 million local manufacturing package will produce complex submarine equipment that is French designed, but Australian made. In partnership with great local businesses we intend to build things that are not currently made in Australia, by sharing our accrued technology and knowledge.
The package includes mission-critical items not limited to the steering gear, weapons handling system, main shaft line, air induction mast, bridge deck, heat exchangers and bulkhead doors.
There has been strong interest from businesses, right around the nation, to join that supply chain.
Building that equipment in Australia will give sovereign capability to make advanced submarines, and additional opportunities for the wider defence and advanced manufacturing industries.
Another $100 million expressions of interest has also been released for local suppliers to deliver ready-made and manufactured items to fit out our submarine construction yard in Adelaide.
There is much more work to come as we approach the milestone of construction starting on a hull qualification section, and as submarine building continues for decades thereafter.
The Future Submarine program will continue to evolve, grow and renew throughout that long journey to remain responsive to the contemporary circumstances and needs of Australia.
Together, I believe we are building something that both our countries can and should be proud of. It’s a mission that is building alliances, while setting Australia apart as a strong sovereign nation.
David Peever is the chairman of Naval Group Australia. He served as the managing director of Rio Tinto Australia, is a former chairman of Cricket Australia and is currently also chairman of Brisbane Airport Corporation.