Sunday, 8 January 2017

Growing up to deliver submarines

By Christopher Skinner
Executive Committee Member, Submarine Institute of Australia

The following advertisement appeared recently soliciting applications for positions in the Australian Government’s Department of Defence Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group SEA1000 Future Submarine Program. To my surprise, it has evoked several indignant or agitated questions from colleagues and others with long engagement in submarine matters (see

“Individuals can apply for positions under direct hire contracts by the Commonwealth of Australia or through companies with authority to provide staff to Australia in support of defence programs. Contracts can vary from 3 to 7 years.

Up to 60 personnel will be recruited within the next 12 months as design of the Future Submarine progresses. Individuals with proven skills and appropriate experience in submarine design, submarine systems design and submarine program management including business management are required for key roles located in Canberra and Adelaide (Australia) and Cherbourg (France).

These people will be working as members of the Future Submarine Program Office, supporting the Commonwealth in upholding its role as an intelligent partner with DCNS and Lockheed Martin Australia.

Positions available range from senior technical positions to mid-level roles. All positions will include a requirement to mentor and train our Australian workforce. Priority has been placed on the selection of personnel for senior positions including:
  • Technical Director (Platform) – Adelaide (click here for position description)
  • Assistant Technical Director (Platform) – Cherbourg (click here for position description)
  • Technical Director (Combat System) – Adelaide (click here for position description)
  • Assistant Technical Director (Combat System) – Cherbourg (click here for position description)
  • Test and Evaluation Director – Adelaide (click here for position description)
  • Material and Supplier Base Director – Adelaide (click here for position description)
  • Shipyard Infrastructure/Workforce Director – Adelaide (click here for position description)

Potential applicants will need to demonstrate substantial management experience at a senior level gained in a technologically and commercially demanding environment – preferable the submarine industry.

Mandatory: Applicants must meet requisite attributes for the position for which they apply.

Interviews will begin the week of 9 January 2017 at the Australian Embassy in the US and within Australia thereafter. Applications or queries should be forwarded to

To me, this all seems logical and timely to ensure the Australian Government is well staffed to perform its proper role effectively and to engage with the main contractors DCNS (platform integration) and Lockheed Martin Australia (LMA, combat system integration). The only further positions that might be added to the above list would be someone placed in the US to support the AN/BYG-1 combat management system, Mk 48 wire-guided torpedo, both jointly developed by the US and Australia, and other US-sourced programs relevant to the Future Submarine Program, as well as a deputy director technical with responsibility for propulsion systems integration, a non-trivial task, within the overall platform integration role.

The role of these people will be as leaders of the Commonwealth teams that form the customer group with whom industry works on a daily basis. These people will be delegated authority to approve documents and specifications on behalf of the customer (the Australian Government’s Department of Defence Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group). This is part of the design development process which has a great deal to be accomplished before procurement of services and materials begins – even long lead items – or construction and integration can begin.

Some of the objections raised relate to the first interviews taking place in Washington DC before those in Australia. Frankly, I do understand this would surprise many people who have not experienced the intensity and richness of scientific, technological, engineering and commercial talent that is concentrated in the Washington area, especially the United States Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Crystal City and nearby.

I have surmised that the interviews in Washington DC are to try to attract US-experienced personnel to join the program. They will provide best-practice experience based on the USS Virginia-class submarines and other programs. However, comments from colleagues have included:

“There is an underlying question about Australian industry involvement. I thought we were to build some Australian sovereign capability with Australian industry. Are we to create an Australian NAVSEA as custodian of some submarine knowledge, disconnected from Australian industry? We now learn that RAND Corp has been tasked by the Government to develop yet another paper on lessons learned in building up and sustaining a workforce for the Australian shipbuilding industry. A US corporation to advise on the Collins, ANZAC and Huon experiences, and the availability and training of Australian managers, engineers, draftspersons, electricians, welders, fitters-and-turners, shipwrights, etc for the Royal Australian Navy’s future submarine and shipbuilding programs? When does Australia shed its colonial past and stop asking Washington, London, and now also Paris, for direction and instead start believing in its own considerable track record and capacities – not least its human resources? The last time a US designer had to build a manned platform that had to pay the electricity bills was circa 1956 and the last operator that swiped the credit card was BLUEBACK circa 1990. While I note the UUV kiddies now have taken up that ‘pay-the-bill’ challenge, they are a very different crowd to those working the ‘SSN meat-grinder’. So it is almost three generations since somebody designed a fighting boat for non-nuke ops in the US and just a generation since somebody put on a snort.”

My instant response to these concerns is that what NAVSEA would bring to this highly challenging program is the process for managing it, not the design itself, which will be the responsibility of DCNS primarily, a highly-experienced designer of submarines – nuclear and conventional – and on air-independent propulsion for the latter.

I, therefore, reject the doubts on the suitability of NAVSEA people to contribute effective leadership and management to the program. I also reject the suggestions that this overlooks highly qualified and experienced Australian professionals; they will be in great demand, but very short supply for a program of this magnitude.

To illustrate how far we have to travel up the industrial-capability curve, Australia’s only school of naval architecture was closed recently (according to media reports in December).

We must learn from our past experience of major naval programs – good and bad – and apply all those lessons in collaboration with experienced designers, builders, integrators and sustainment people from where we can attract them. This is an extraordinary program to meet requirements that cannot be met off the shelf so that alone should attract innovative people from around the world.

I truly hope we concentrate on growing our scientific, engineering and industrial experience to deliver highly effective submarines in a program which becomes an exemplar for Australian and international endeavours of similar complexity.


  1. There is no reason to believe the new submarines will be any better performed in construction and in service than the poorly performing Collins class.

    The new submarines will be more complex than Collins class which portends reduced reliability and availability.

    It is questionable whether Australia is capable of manufacturing and operating submarines.

  2. Initially the Collins had some big problems, typical of any new defence platform. With time, persistence and some help from bigger Allies these were ironed out. The Collins is no longer a poor performing class, quite the opposite!