Naval Shipbuilding Plan outlines infrastructure spending and workforce challenges

NUSHIP Hobart conducts sea trials in the Gulf St Vincent off the coast of Adelaide South Australia.The federal government has released the Naval Shipbuilding Plan, promising to end the boom-bust cycle of projects by implementing a rolling acquisition of submarines and continuous build of ships.

The plan includes more than $1.3 billion in funding for the development of shipyard infrastructure in South Australia and Western Australia.

Work on the development of new surface ship construction facilities at Osborne South, which is valued at up to $535 million, is expected to start in the second half of this year. The first two Offshore Patrol Vessels are likely to be built using existing infrastructure there.

Completion of the Osborne South facilities is scheduled to occur by the second half of 2019, ahead of the start of Future Frigate construction, which (contrary to rumours of schedule slippage) is set to commence in 2020 as planned.

Defence is consulting with DCNS on the Future Submarine program construction infrastructure requirements for Osborne North, and a costed design for a modernised submarine construction facility is anticipated to be delivered for government consideration next year.

The release of the Naval Shipbuilding Plan follows the separate announcement of a deal to buy the Common User Facility from the South Australian government for $230 million.

Meanwhile, the federal government announced in February that it would spend $100 million on shipbuilding infrastructure in Western Australia.

Specific infrastructure requirements at the Henderson maritime precinct will be shaped by the outcome of the Offshore Patrol Vessels competition. The Naval Shipbuilding Plan notes that a second floating dock could potentially be added that would be capable of supporting the sustainment of all Royal Australian Navy vessels, including the amphibious assault ships.

The shipbuilding workforce is expected to grow to number about 5,200 workers by the mid- to late 2020s, with more than double that engaged in sustainment activities and throughout supply chains across Australia.

The Naval Shipbuilding College headquartered in Adelaide, which was announced in March as the ‘Maritime Technical College’, will begin operating in early 2018, working with existing education centres to expand and develop the pool of available skilled workers to meet growing demand.

As the plan acknowledges, there are “significant challenges” inherent in ensuring that a highly skilled workforce is available within the timelines required.