LHD program

Headline: Will the LHDs mark the end of work at Williamstown?

Byline: Kym Bergmann / Canberra


One of the weighty matters that will need to be considered urgently by new Defence Minister David Johnston – and indeed the entire Cabinet – is the future of naval shipbuilding in Australia. During the election campaign former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – finally – spoke of the urgent need to bring work forward to avoid the Valley of Death coming up in 2015. During his time as the Shadow Defence Minister, Senator Johnston was also regularly briefed on the issue by industry and certainly demonstrated a keen interest in the topic.

LHD project status.

The current situation with the LHDs is both illustrative and a possible model for how future business might be conducted. The ships are designed by Navantia in Spain and the hulls are constructed and outfitted there, but with superstructures being added by prime contractor BAE Systems at Williamstown dockyard in Melbourne on the edge of Port Phillip Bay. Asked to describe the work that is currently taking place, a company spokesperson explained:

“LHD1 is in the final phases of completing the production and integration work. The ship is now moving into the testing phase from a Combat and Communications perspective. Currently there are approximately 600 trades on the day shift which cover electrical, mechanical, accommodation outfitting and energisation of systems. These are supplemented by other organisations such as Alton, Kaefer, Eptec in the electrical, mechanical, insulation and painting areas. We also have subcontractors such as the ship designer Navantia with SAGE working on the platform management systems testing and we are also being assisted by our combat system (SAAB) and communications systems (L3) subcontractors. BAE Systems has also used the company’s global reach back to get assistance from the US and UK in specialist areas.”

Asked to describe what still needs to be done before sea trials can begin, the company responded:

“Tasks to be completed are the reactivation of platform systems that were laid up from Spain and the set to work and integration of combat and communications systems. We expect to conduct our first phase of sea trials in December 2013.”

And lastly on the status of the second and final ship:

“Ship 2 hull is currently being outfitted and tested in Ferrol Spain by BAE Systems, Navantia and the Commonwealth of Australia prior to transportation to Australia from December 2013. The hull will be transported the same as LHD1, on the deck of the Blue Marlin – with arrival expected in Melbourne in late February 2014. The masts for Ship2 have been built in WA and are now in Melbourne being consolidated to the 4 superstructure blocks, which are also in varying stages of production in BAE Systems.”

The major subcontractors seem to be comfortable with how things are progressing, though Saab Systems was regrettably unable to provide any real details on their combat system work. This is known to be a low risk derivative of their 9LV Combat Management System found on the ANZAC Frigates. 9LV was originally designed primarily as a ship air defence system, so it is well suited for many LHD tasks that will involve controlling the operation of a large number of aircraft in the form of embarked helicopters and other assets that happen to be in the area of operations.

The role of L-3.

One of the major subsystems carried by the LHDs will be their very capable communications suites, designed and built by US company L-3 and with the involvement of several Australian contractors.

The company says that over the last 12 months, the L-3 team has successfully completed several significant performance milestones on the program. Since October 2012, L-3 delivered two shipsets of equipment to BAE Systems’ facility in Williamstown, assisted with the installation of the Integrated Communications Suite (ICS) into NUSHIP Canberra, and delivered a training system to BAE Systems’ facility in Sydney, NSW, for LHD crew training. At the end of 2012, the L-3 team completed the shore-based testing of the ICS.

The arrival of NUSHIP Canberra to Williamstown has enabled BAE Systems to complete the ICS installation process. Now, BAE Systems and L-3 are collaborating to prepare the ship for harbour and sea trials later this year. Concurrently, installation of L-3’s system has already begun on the second Canberra Class ship in Spain ahead of ship delivery to Australia.

The training system delivered to Sydney was designed, manufactured and commissioned in less than 24 months. Delivered in September of 2013, the complex system consisted of a replica LHD ICS solution designed to provide hands-on, practical-level operator and maintainer training. In addition, L-3 has provided a complete set of classroom training exercises, as well as computer-based training that can be used by sailors as self-training aids.

Since 2005, L-3 has been building its in-country engineering and support capability while delivering complex maritime communications packages to the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy on schedule. L-3 is now planning to replicate this successful performance on similar maritime programs, including the SEA 1439 Ph5B2 for Collins Class submarines, SEA 1180 patrol vessels and SEA 1654 Replenishment Ship replacement programs. This will leverage commonality with L-3 systems now installed on the NUSHIP Canberra, HMAS SIRIUS and the two RNZN ANZAC frigates, lowering the Navy’s Total Operational Cost (TOC) by taking advantage of support infrastructure and trained crews already in place.


As mentioned above, crew training is being conducted at Mascot in Sydney by BAE Systems, which the author had the opportunity to visit as part of a small media tour. Asked to describe the role of the company, Wendy Bourke 
ILS Manager LHD explained:

“The original negotiated contract (2007) included development and delivery of a Training Needs Analysis Report (TNAR), with place holders for two (2) Contract Change Proposals (CCPs), for the inclusion of training course development and training course delivery. The contract was structured this way to ensure that a training program would be established that meet the needs of the Commonwealth/Navy, this was not initially clearly defined in the tender or concept documentation. It also afforded the Commonwealth the opportunity to utilise Spanish Armada training material (if available) and then only develop required gap courses.

“On approval of the TNAR a set of LHD training courses were established and an initial Training Course Development CCP was submitted to the Commonwealth for approval. This CCP included training material development, procurement of training equipment and the establishment of a ‘temporary’ training facility. The Training Development CCP was approved in October 2011. Understanding the courses to be conducted and in consultation with various Commonwealth stakeholders a defined LHD1 crew training curriculum was established, allowing for complete understanding of the scope of training delivery per crew. A Training Delivery CCP was submitted and Approval September 2012, for the conduct of two (2) LHD Crews.”

BAE Systems hope that the facility – or at least all of the equipment in it – will eventually be used by the RAN for some of their operator training on other platforms. The work they are doing in essence will allow a brand new crew to walk onto an LHD, stat it up and go sailing. It is not designed to be an operational or tactical training system; it is much more about the basics of controlling and monitoring a very large modern ship.

Many of the training exercises are generic in nature, such as becoming familiar with the enormous network pipework and valves inside the LHD. Students learn by computer-based training and are tested to make sure they have reached the required standard of proficiency. As BAE Systems points out, these exercises could be modified so that the students are taught about any other platform in the RAN’s inventory. Classrooms can be easily reconfigured because all of the cable runs and power supplies are located beneath the elevated floors.

Like other companies interested in issues of future workload, BAE Systems believe it will be mutually beneficial for the Mascot centre to remain in use for activities well beyond training the first two LHD crews. The end of this task is already in sight.

The future of Williamstown.

The above paragraph is a neat segue to a discussion about whether one of Australia’s oldest dockyard at Williamstown can survive for much beyond 2015 when LHD work comes to an abrupt end. The quick and brutal answer is that unless more work comes in – and a substantial amount at that – then the owner BAE Systems will have little choice but to close down the facility. The Defence Department, the Royal Australian Navy and politicians have been aware of the issue for some time but have been collectively incapable of doing anything about it.

There might be a feeling amongst some of “so what?” Indeed, the author shudders at the memory of a former Chief of Naval Materiel – who will not be named, but you know who you are – shrugging his shoulders in the 1990s about the future of ASC, saying that if it closed down it wouldn’t matter because someone would open up a new yard if and when it was needed. This of course completely overlooks the issue of loss of skills that occur when shipyards close down – with many people being lost from the defence system forever. It can be convincingly argued that some of the difficulties in ramping up for the Air Warfare Destroyer contract can be traced back directly to a previous industrial Valley of Death that occurred around 2005.

It is already acknowledged that the task of constructing a future generation of 12 submarines will require an enormous effort – not to mention other projects such as SEA 5000, the future frigate. Australia can ill afford to lose skilled shipbuilding tradespeople such as welders and boilermakers, nor experienced project managers.

What needs to be done is not more navel-gazing but the fast tracking of work – either the replacement of HMAS Success and HMAS Sirius (the subject of a separate article in this edition) or the Armidale Class patrol boat replacement. Because of the glacial manner in which the Department and DMO currently function it is not even possible to go through normal processes for these projects because to do so would be to delay the start of work until late in this decade, which will be several years after Williamstown has closed its doors for the last time.

The incoming Government has the opportunity to cut through quickly and to select BAE Systems as the prime contractor for the two new supply ships and to build them following a methodology similar to the LHDs. Patrol boats could go to Austal. ASC seems to be in a slightly more comfortable position with a slow down in AWD construction and ongoing submarine maintenance work.

Whether the new Cabinet regards defence industry as any sort of priority is yet to be seen, but unfortunately that does not appear very likely, no matter how well intentioned Senator Johnston might be.


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