A network of engineering researchers across industry, universities and government.

About the ARC Research Training Centre

The aim of the ARC Research Training Centre for Naval Design and Manufacturing (RTCNDM) is to transform Australia’s naval manufacturing industry by:

  1. Training a new cohort of industry-focused, high-level and broadly skilled engineers and engineering researchers.
  2. Creating a new network of engineering researchers across industry, universities and government to enable the Australian naval manufacturing industry to more rapidly evolve and innovate.
  3. Solving key problems that are currently restricting the efficient design, construction and sustainment of naval platforms.

Background

The Australian Federal Government has wrought a transformation in the Defence agenda as outlined in the two most recent Defence White Papers released in 2009 and 2013. There has been a reorientation of Australia’s maritime capabilities and a broad step-change in the potency of maritime munitions. This adds up to the most ambitious and significant program of naval Defence construction since World War II (Cosgrove 2009).

Recognising the strategic importance to Australia of maintaining a strong ... shipbuilding industry, the Government is committed to a program of naval shipbuilding that will retain required national skills and capacity to support Defence needs over the long-term. (Defence White Paper 2013)

These naval shipbuilding programs include manufacturing of:

  • an expanded fleet of 12 conventional submarines in South Australia to replace the existing Collins Class fleet of submarines;
  • a fleet of future frigates to replace the ANZAC Class frigates; and
  • a new fleet of patrol boats to replace the current Armidale Class patrol boats.

In addition the Government proposes to (i) upgrade and extend the existing mine hunter and hydrographic vessels, (ii) seek new logistic and replenishment support vessels that could be built locally, and (iii) investigate the construction of a new modular multirole vessel and amphibious craft.

This is a very ambitious shipbuilding program. For example “the Future Submarine Program represents the largest and most complex project ever undertaken in Australia’s history” (Defence White Paper 2013).

To complete this program successfully, the Government will need to support the Australian naval shipbuilding industry in developing and maintaining a workforce skilled in a wide range of specialist activities, (Defence White Paper 2013)

Several high-level reviews have been commissioned by the Australian Department of Defence following these White Papers with direct comparisons made to the global defence industries. All reports have emphasised that there is a need for the development of a cohort of highly skilled engineers with input at every stage of the design, construction and sustainment of Australian naval platforms. The report by the RAND Corporation (Birkler et al., 2011) concluded that the Future Submarine project alone would need 300 - 500 skilled engineers in the industry and stated that “although a workforce of this size and capabilities does not exist in Australia today, under the right circumstances one could be cultivated over the next 15 to 20 years.” This shortfall in skilled engineers was again highlighted in the recent Future Submarine Industry Skills Plan (Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) 2013) which stated: “a competitive Australian naval shipbuilding industry will depend upon people skilled in systems engineering, ship design, production engineering, ship construction and mega-project management. Australia can achieve world-class levels of performance; however, this optimum outcome will take vision, perseverance, planning and time.”

There are other capability issues in the naval manufacturing industries that also require attention if Australia is to build the proposed fleets in a timely, cost-effective manner. The Defence Capability Plan (DMO 2012) has outlined major capability considerations in relation to various naval manufacturing projects. Cosgrove (2009) proposed that many areas need further work including: “warship design and production engineering, build duration and keel intervals, production learning curve efficiency, as well as shipyard productivity and benchmarks.” This report also stated that there are “potentially greater savings to be achieved in the sustainment phase.”

In a review of major DMO naval construction projects underway the Australian National Audit Office (2012) stated that: achieving the required level of shipbuilding productivity may be compromised by skilled labour shortages, delays in deliveries of data and materials to the shipyards, and limitations on the production engineering capacity In a submission to the Senate Defence and Trade References Committee of the Australian Parliament (ASC 2006), ASC - Australia’s largest high-end naval design and engineering company and Partner Organisation in this project - recommended that the Government designate the following strategic capabilities for retention and development within Australia’s maritime sector: (i) naval design and systems engineering capabilities adequate for research, planning, building and supporting complex warships and submarines; and (ii) the ability to trouble-shoot faults, design and undertake repairs, modify a wide range of naval systems and generally support naval vessels within Australia. It is clear that Australia has an ambitious plan for naval manufacturing for at least the next 50 years. But currently the shipbuilding industry has insufficient skilled engineers to achieve this program of construction and needs to improve shipbuilding productivity. This project will effect the transformation required to provide high-level and broadly skilled engineers and engineering researchers for the industry and realise opportunities for significant improvements in productivity and capability. The common themes across all previous Defence industry reviews are for a focus on research in design, construction and sustainment of naval platforms.

Aims

To transform Australia's naval manufacturing industry by:

  • Training a new cohort of industry-focused, high-level and broadly skilled engineers and engineering researchers. 
  • Creating a new network of engineering researchers across industry, universities and government to enable the Australian naval manufacturing industry to more rapidly evolve and innovate.
  • Solving key problems that are currently restricting the efficient design, construction and sustainment of naval platforms.