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Capability Reviews Bring Changes for Australia's Navy

Dec. 16, 2011 - 03:45AM   |  
By NIGEL PITTAWAY   |   Comments
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MELBOURNE, Australia - The Australian government this week announced its response to two reports that criticize the operational capability of the Royal Australian Navy.

Speaking to media on Dec. 13, Defence Minister Stephen Smith and Jason Clare, minister for defense materiel, announced the Navy would acquire an additional sealift ship to improve its amphibious capability, following withdrawal of two amphibious warfare vessels, Kanimbla and Manoora, due to poor condition earlier this year.

The ministers also detailed responses to the recently released first phase of a review of maintenance of the Navy's six Collins-class submarines by John Coles, an independent expert from BMT Defence Services in the U.K.

The review was commissioned following revelations that most, and sometimes all, of Australia's submarines were not able to put to sea for a period of time and that sustainment costs had increased dramatically.

Speaking during the commissioning of the RAN's amphibious ship Choules in Western Australia, Smith responded to Phase 1 of the Coles review, saying that implementation of the recommendations will begin immediately.

"The report shows very deep, long-standing difficulties so far as maintenance and sustainment of the Collins-class submarine is concerned," he said. "It points to very serious flaws over a long period of time and draws attention to the need for fundamental reform in the way in which maintenance and sustainment is effected. The report itself makes very salutary reading, and it is a no-holds-barred report into what I regard as a long-standing systemic difficulty so far as Collins-class maintenance is concerned."

The report identified a range of shortfalls, including poor availability, a lack of cohesion in strategic leadership, a lack of clarity about accountability and responsibility, unclear requirements and unrealistic goals.

Its recommendations include increasing the provision of spare parts, further training and the development of an In-Service Support Contract between the government's Defence Materiel Organisation and the Australian Submarine Corp., manufacturers of the Collins boats.

Phase 2 of the Coles report will be released in April.

The Rizzo report, commissioned to investigate Australia's amphibious capability and conducted by independent external reviewer Paul Rizzo, was submitted to government in July and has directly resulted in the plans to acquire a third vessel to complement Choules and the existing landing ship, Tobruk.

To cover the shortfall in the interim, the Australian Defence Force is leasing the subsea operations vessel Windemere from civilian sources.

"A commercial off-the-shelf vessel will be sought so that minimal modifications will be needed, allowing the ship to enter service in the course of 2012," Smith said. The new ship "will primarily be used to transport troops and supplies in support of humanitarian and disaster relief operations domestically and in the region. Detailed discussions on the purchase will be taken in the near future."

Responding to the Coles and Rizzo reviews, Chief of Navy Vice Adm. Ray Griggs said, "I see these reviews as a very important opportunity for Navy, and for me as the capability manager, to be able to exercise my responsibilities. I don't see them as a threat. I see them - and their candor and honesty - as extremely useful to me to exercise my responsibilities and to make sure that we work together to get the sustainment of our Collins submarines right."

Australia plans to build 12 conventionally powered submarines to replace the Collins boats in the next decade, and Smith and Clare also announced Dec. 13 that French shipbuilder DCNS, Germany's HDW and Spain's Navantia will be issued requests for information.

Australia has also contracted with Babcock to study the establishment of a land-based propulsion systems test facility in response to a Rand Corp. study into Australia's submarine design capabilities and capacities.

The government has held high-level discussions with the U.S. Navy on the Future Submarine Project, most recently during November's AUSMIN ministerial talks.

"The Future Submarine Project is the biggest and most complex defense project we have ever embarked upon," Clare said. "It will involve hundreds of companies, thousands of workers and a lot of skills that do not currently exist in sufficient numbers.

"Some of those skills are available overseas; others will have to be grown here. Now is the time to develop a plan to make sure we have the skills we need when we start designing and building the submarines."

Clare said future announcements regarding the program will be made in 2012.

Smith and Clare also announced a study into alternate methods of crewing some naval vessels with a mix of civilian and military crews in a manner similar to the Military Sealift Command in the U.S. or Britain's Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

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