U.K., Canada, Australia Pursue ‘Continuous Build’ Strategy to Shore Up Shipbuilding
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The naval shipbuilding industries of the Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom share common challenges as they work to provide stability in shipbuilding programs and smooth out the boom and bust cycles of the industry, particularly with regard to preserving a skilled workforce and viable shipyards.
Speaking on these issues on a panel April 5 at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition were Commodore Craig Bourke, director general of the Air Warfare Destroyer program for Royal Australian Navy (RAN); David Monahan, program manager for the Halifax-Class Modernization/Frigate Life-Extension Project for the Department of National Defense of Canada; and Henry Parker, director of ship acquisition for the United Kingdom. The panel was moderated by Gloria L. Valdez, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Ships.
Bourke noted that all four countries represented on the panel were modern nations that believed in the rule of law, had educated workforces, and suffered declining manufacturing industrial bases.
He pointed out that with a long coastline and Australia’s location just south of the world’s busiest sea lanes, the RAN and Australia’s shipbuilding industry were critical to the nations’ defense and to regional stability.
“Getting the balance right” between the RAN, the shipbuilding industry and the skills of the workforce was necessary, he said, noting that Australia was about to kick off a “continuous build” cycle to create a sustainable naval shipbuilding industry, with strong partnerships and a skilled workforce.
The RAN is in the midst of a naval modernization, procuring 12 submarines, three air warfare destroyers, nine frigates, 12 offshore patrol vessels and 21 Pacific patrol boats, the latter for island nations in the South Pacific.
Bourke said that Australia is consolidating its shipbuilding in two yards, one for large ships in the southern art of the country and one for smaller vessels in Western Australia.
Noting that half-life upgrades to ships do not always work well, he advocated a “rolling capability to insert technology.”
Canada also is in the midst of a broad modernization program for its navy, retiring three destroyers and two replenishment ships and upgrading 12 Halifax-class frigates, building three offshore patrol vessels, two support ships, a new design for the Canadian Surface Combatant is in a proposal stage for eventual delivery in the mid-2020s.
Canada already has consolidated its naval shipbuilding in two yards, Seaspan on the West Coast and Irving on the East Coast.
“That’s been an extremely successful strategy,” Monahan said, but he noted that “a build of this magnitude is really taxing the industrial capacity of Canada. We’re starting to reach the end of available resources in Canada.”
Monahan pointed out that Canada’s shipbuilding has to compete with the oil and gas industry for skilled workers.
Under the U.K.’s 2015 Strategic Defence Review, the nation is “committed to grow the Navy for the first time since World War II,” Parker said, quipping that the Royal Navy is looking to become the size of “the U.S. Navy divided by five.”
The United Kingdom is delivering the first of two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers this year and will cut steel this summer on the first Type 26 frigate. A new offshore patrol vessel is expected to begin sea trials soon. A new tanker built in South Korea was delivered last week. The Type 31 frigate is being built in parallel with the Type 26. The Type 31E light frigate will be built for export.
Parker said the United Kingdom, like Australia, is using a continuous-build strategy and has consolidated its yards such that one is building submarines and two others are building surface ships, and ships such as tankers are purchased from foreign yards.
He also pointed out that the Queen Elizabeth carrier was built in six different locations, with components joined together at one yard.
“We will have to do something similar with the Type 31,” Parker said.
He said the government is designing a new National Shipbuilding Strategy which will report in the spring, he said.