Beyond the more obvious influence of the RAND Corporation’s report on the composition of the Australian government’s new Enterprise Naval Shipbuilding Plan is a just-highlighted at Pacific 2015 grouping of senior leaders of major Western naval vessel consumers encompassing Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Known as the Naval Shipbuilding Quadrilateral (NSQ), members of this exclusive grouping meet regularly to discuss their major programs, including roundtable discussions of the major defence contractors they are dealing with as evidenced by case studies of contractor performance and contractor relationship experiences.
Speaking on NSQ activities at Pacific 2015, Head of Defence Maritime Systems at Defence’s Capability and Acquisition Group RADM Mark Purcell said the NSQ group had two or three meetings a year with the 1 th held in Australia just before Pacific 2015.
The group previously met in San Diego, hosted by the US Coast Guard, and had visited one the US Navy’s new Mobile Landing Platform/Afloat Forward Strategy Basing ships, as well as touring the NASSCO shipyard, which builds US Navy replenishment ships.
The NSQ group meeting before this was in Vancouver, hosted by the Royal Canadian Navy, and examined Canada’s strategy to support east and west coast shipyards as part of a naval fleet revitalisation program spanning replacement frigates, arctic patrol vessels and a joint support ship/tanker project.
According to RADM Purcell, the Naval Shipbuilding Quadrilateral meeting in Sydney discussed industrial sustainment and continuity, Australia’s new Enterprise Shipbuilding Plan and a ‘deep dive’ analysis of the performance and respective NSQ customer experiences of Austal and Raytheon.
In these latter discussions, RADM Purcell said the NSQ group “shared and contrasted our experiences with the subject companies”.
Additional discussions concerned implementation of the First Principles Review and the quest for the CASG to become a ‘smart buyer’ as well as an update of the Canadian submarine program.
Also on the table was the role of performance metrics in improving acquisition outcomes, the new RAN focus on seaworthiness as a means to balancing operational effects with risks to the environment and personnel and lessons from the US Navy on some of their shipbuilding contracting experiences. The latter topic included the potential application of group maintenance contracts to other members of the Quadrilateral group.
Executive Director of the Program Executive Office – Submarines of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the US Navy, Gloria Valdez, visiting Australia for the first time as US NSQ representative, spoke about her experience in attending two previous quadrilateral meetings.
She said the discussions were valuable in that they exposed issues common to the respective naval ship consumers, as well as being ‘different”.
Valdez addressed the current structure of the US naval shipbuilding base, which has progressively concentrated around two major companies – General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls.
She also noted that more contemporary programs in the form of the Littoral Combat Ship and Joint High Speed Vessel, which potentially will comprise up to one-third of the US Navy target of 308 ships, were foreign-owned – in the form of Australia’s Austal and Europe’s Fincantieri.
Across eight types of submarine and major surface ship, the US Navy currently has 63 new vessels under contract, with 35 being built.
Representing the UK at this year’s NSQ meeting was Head of the Type 26 and OPV sections of Defence Equipment and Support in the Ministry of Defence, Commodore Paul Methven.
On major ships, the Royal Navy is building two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, tankers with DMSE in Korea and planning for a 13-ship Type 26 frigate construction program, otherwise known as the Global Combat Ship (GCS).
According to Commodore Methven, although driven by Royal Navy requirements the GSC had been designed around flexible parameters to be both global in application and about combat. Hence the new ship was “unashamedly geared for high end warfare”.
Methven said RN requirements had driven extended range and built-in flexibility, including principal armament of a 5in gun along with a vertical launch system for air defence and strike missiles. The Type 26’s flight deck had been designed to accommodate helicopters up to ‘Chinook’ size, while the flexible mission bay was “a real selling point” for the whole ship.
The Royal Navy is planning to start manufacture of the first Type 26 towards the end of 2016, following anticipated re-endorsement of the capability in a Strategic Defence and Security Review due to be brought down by the end of 2015.
As a major risk management initiative Commodore Methven said the Royal Navy had been executing numerous credible scenarios relating to ‘Black Swan’ events that could bring the program unstuck. Buthe admitted there had been no scenarios prepared to deal with an SDSR decision to either cancel the Type 26 program or proceed with a new one based on a redesigned ship of either higher or lesser capability.