Naval Group has “awarded” two subcontracts to South Australia-based PMB Defence and Greece-based Sunlight Systems for the design of the Main Storage Batteries Stages 1 and 2 for the Attack Class submarines.
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PMB Defence and Sunlight, Naval Group's leading submarine battery supplier have been contracted to provide design, prototyping and qualification activities for the Main Storage Batteries (MSB).
Both organisations will provide Naval Group with the data necessary to select one as the preferred MSB design for the Attack Class program in 2022.
The MSBs are responsible for supplying power to the propulsion system of the submarine and to other equipment on-board the ship. They directly impact the safety of the submarine when diving, making them a critical piece of equipment for the platform.
PMB is a leading supplier of high quality energy and specialised engineering solutions for submarine platforms in Australia. Since 1989, it has continuously supplied MSBs for the Collins Class and more recently have been contracted to design the UK’s next generation submarine battery.
Sunlight is a worldwide recognised submarine battery designer and manufacturer with an extensive knowledge of submarines.
John Davis, chief executive of Naval Group Australia, said, "The supply contract will be awarded to the organisation that provides a technically superior design, represents the best value for money and demonstrates a strong commitment to the program’s Australian industry capability requirements.
"Naval Group will continue to work with both parties in a range of areas moving forwards to ensure best program outcomes and the maximisation of the involvement of Australian industry in all phases on the contract."
PMB's CEO, Stephen Faulkner welcomed the contract announcement, stating, "PMB looks forward to applying its unique understanding of Australian submarine operations to the design and manufacture of a superior Attack Class submarine battery system. This contract supports PMB’s ongoing growth of its skilled workforce and Defence exports from its Australian facilities."
Naval Group's release stated that Sunlight’s Australian Industry Capability Plan outlined the company's commitment to local manufacturing in Australia including the transfer of technology, skills and knowledge if successful.
Dimitris Naoumidis, Sunlight’s advanced batteries BU director also welcomed the announcement, stating, "Sunlight prides itself on being provided with the opportunity to be part of the Attack Class program.
"Sunlight is committed to assisting Australian industry and meeting and exceeding the expectations of the Commonwealth of Australia for maximum endurance and performance of the Attack Class submarine batteries outlined in our Australian Industry Capability Plan that has been submitted as part of the selection program; new jobs and revenue will be created," Naoumidis added.
These comments were reinforced by Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price, who welcomed the subcontract signing.
Minister Reynolds said, "The main storage batteries are the main source of power when the submarine is submerged. The selection of these two companies to develop designs of this subsystem is another significant milestone in the design and delivery of the Attack Class submarine program.
"A competitive process will ensure the final designer selected will deliver the very best battery technology to meet the key performance requirements of the Attack Class submarine."
In the joint release, Minister Price said, "I am pleased to confirm that regardless of whoever wins the preferred design, the main storage batteries will be manufactured in Australia.
"This commitment will provide enormous opportunities for more local companies to be part this world-class advanced manufacturing project."
Speaking directly to Defence Connect, Minister Price added, "We will manufacture these batteries in Australia, creating Aussie jobs. The Morrison Government will continue to open new opportunities in the Australian defence industry from our $50 billion submarine program.
"Both PMB Defence and Systems Sunlight have agreed the batteries will be manufactured in Australia, using the local supply chain, which gives me great satisfaction as Minister for Defence Industry.
Minister Price added further, "All companies interested in the Future Submarine Program must register their interest through the Industry Capability Network portal. Maximising Australian industry involvement throughout all phases of the Submarine Program are contractual objectives."
Despite the contract announcement, this raises important questions about the European giant's commitment to developing a sovereign Australian industrial capability and whether they are mere platitudes as part of a box-ticking exercise to fulfil a quota.
It should also be noted that Sunlight is also responsible for providing the battery systems for a range of German and Swedish-designed submarines including the Type 206, 212 and 214 submarines, along with the French, Indian, Dutch, Danish and Italian Scorpene, Agosta, Sauro, Kobben Class submarines.
Perhaps most concerningly, the company is also responsible for supplying the Romeo, Foxtrot and new generation of Russian designed and built Kilo Class submarines operated by the Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian navies.
This is particularly relevant following revelations made by Ben Packham of The Australian that the contracts for four other "critical systems", namely the submarines’ main motor, diesel generators, electrical switchboard and weapons handling system – were handed to overseas companies without competitive tenders.
Naval Group is the European leader in naval defence. Naval Group uses its extraordinary know-how, unique industrial resources and capacity to arrange innovative strategic partnerships to meet its customers’ requirements.
As a system integrator and prime contractor, Naval Group designs, produces and supports submarines and surface ships. It also supplies services to shipyards and naval bases.
Naval Group's successful Shortfin Barracuda design, which serves as the basis for the new Attack Class, is a conventionally-powered variant of the nuclear-powered Barracuda fast attack submarine currently under construction for the French Navy.
The 12 vessels will be built by Naval Group at a specialist submarine shipyard at Osborne, South Australia. The Commonwealth government’s Australian Naval Infrastructure (ANI) program will support the development of the future submarine shipyards.
The Commonwealth government formally signed the strategic partnering agreement (SPA) with Naval Group in February 2019 ahead of confirming the final design specifications and requirements for the Attack Class submarines.
The Attack Class will enter service with the Royal Australian Navy at a time when 50 per cent of the world’s submarines will be operating in the Indo-Pacific region.