When then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the DCNS, now Naval Group, Shortfin Barracuda as the successful design for the hotly contested SEA 1000 Future Submarine program in April 2016, it seemed as if the disastrous procurement of the Collins Class would be put aside.
Lockheed Martin has used the Future Submarine Program Industry Briefing as a platform to not only highlight and outline some of the company's key milestones, but to also outline the path forward and encourage increasing Australian industrial and academic participation to support the Commonwealth government's sovereign shipbuilding and $95 billion naval shipbuilding plan.
Meanwhile, despite continuing concerns about the cost, delivery time frame and operational capability of Australia's $50 billion fleet of Future Submarines, combat systems integrator Lockheed Martin remains committed to delivering certainty for government, Navy and broader industry partners supporting the project.
Mike Oliver, program director, future submarine combat systems integration, Lockheed Martin, reinforced this, saying, "For Lockheed Martin, this process is all about developing a sovereign capability in Australia. We currently have 175 people currently working on the program and we expect that to grow to about 205 by February of 2019 and it is important to remember that all of these people are Australians."
The Australian Future Submarine will incorporate the AN/BYG-1 Combat Control System, which provides an open-architecture submarine combat control system for analysing and tracking submarine and surface, ship contacts, providing situational awareness, as well as the capability to target and employ torpedoes and missiles, and become the 'eyes and ears' of the vessels.
"The combat system is the eyes and ears of the submarine, it enables the vessel to gather data above and below the waves, it allows them to gather intelligence, conduct surveillance and guide offensive combat operations if needed," Oliver explained.
Meeting targets, supporting industry
Recently, Lockheed Martin has delivered on a number of key milestones, across the company's involvement with the Future Submarine program. Namely, the company announced the first solicitation for key components for the combat system in April 2018 and, according to Oliver, expects to announce preferred tenders in first quarter, 2019.
"At this stage, we are tracking well throughout the design phase of the combat system program," Oliver said.
Australian industry and academia has played a critical role in helping Lockheed Martin continue to deliver on key milestones, while leveraging the expertise, experience and willingness of Lockheed Martin to support Australian industry to develop closer supply chain relationships with the prime.
Oliver expanded on this, praising Australian industry, while recognising the importance of key government policy in supporting industry primes and SMEs to develop the sovereign capability mandated by government.
"The is a lot of great capability within Australian industry, the submarine program, the sovereign shipbuilding plan will really provide Australian industry with certainty and incentive to nurture a sovereign industrial capability," he said.
Further to this, Oliver remained bullish on Lockheed Martin's own delivery timeline, saying that while the current contract decisions focused around design activity for the actual combat system and its subsequent configuration, they were on track for manufacturing of the combat system components to "kick off in the '22-'23 time frame".
"If you look at the Australian government's expected sea trials for the first of class, which is in the early 2030s, the team is well on track to make sure that the physical components which make up the combat system will be ready for installation by 2027," Oliver said.
Delivering certainty and developing sovereign capability
Oliver reinforced Lockheed Martin's commitment to supporting Australian industry through two key ways. First, through program certainty, and second, through nurturing the growth of Australian sovereign capability.
Industry collaboration, technology and skills transfer is a core component of Lockheed Martin's plan for delivering a sovereign Australian capability and supports this through collaboration, industry briefings (like the Future Submarine Program Briefing in Adelaide) and working with the Australian supply chain.
"From Lockheed Martin Australia's perspective, we offer certainty across the board, from the design phase, which we are currently undertaking, through to the manufacturing and ultimately the delivery of the components to the shipyard for installation and integration. We have our project time frames well established into the 2020s, so Lockheed Martin is committed to certainty," Oliver said.
"We have already awarded some contracts to Australian industry and we are looking forward to making future contract announcements early in Q1 of 2019."
As part of a broad industry team delivering the project, Lockheed Martin has maintained a commitment to ensuring full technology and skills transfer to Australian industry partners, echoing the comments made by Adam Waldie of Thales Australia: "It needs to operationally be Australianised. But then there's that supply chain piece. It's got to stay in Australia and be sovereignly sustained. It's just not good enough to send something 20,000 kilometres back to get fixed in a shed somewhere in Europe. It's got to be done here. So, that Australianisation of the support chain is what's key."
Reinforcing this, Oliver said, "We have ensured that our industry partners know there is an obligation to transfer the skills and technology to Australian industry, it's not only a contractual obligation, it is both an operational and a personal obligation to support the nation's strategic requirements."
Always looking for more partners
Oliver stressed Lockheed Martin Australia's desire to not only engage with Australian industry and academia, but to nurture the relationships and encouraged any Australian business, academic or university to more directly engage with the prime.
"It gives us the opportunity to really help test and build Australia's sovereign industrial capability," Oliver said.
The Future Submarine Combat System Program presents an opportunity for Australian industry to participate in an exciting and strategically important program to build and maintain an enduring and regionally superior Australian submarine capability.
Lockheed Martin Australia is the combat system integrator for Australia's Future Submarine program, partnering with the Department of Defence and Naval Group to design and integrate the combat system for the future fleet.
The $50 billion SEA 1000 program will deliver 12 regionally superior submarines to replace the Royal Australian Navy's ageing Collins Class vessels. The successful Shortfin Barracuda design is a conventionally powered variant of the nuclear powered Barracuda fast attack submarine currently under construction in France for the French Navy.