Analysis and Commentary

Another naval ship to be imported, not built locally

Analysis and Commentary

By Peter Roberts

The Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) just announced procurement of a dedicated undersea support vessel along with other perplexing decisions by defence are raising questions over whether there is a sufficient focus in Canberra about buying from Australian companies.

After a selection process led by an independent broker, the Norwegian flagged MV Normand Jarl has been procured for $110 million and is undergoing inspection and certification activities in Singapore before sailing to Australia where it will be renamed Australian Defence Vessel (ADV) Guidance.

Deputy Secretary Naval Shipbuilding and Sustainment Tony Dalton said the new vessel acquisition would be used to further advance a range of trials and activities leveraging new technologies in the undersea domain.

The primary role of the 7,400 tonne ADV Guidance will be to support undersea surveillance systems trials, including the ability to deploy undersea crewed and uncrewed vehicles, and robotic and autonomous systems.

Now maybe I am jumping to conclusions but aren’t we trying to build a naval construction industry in this country where the training of skilled labour is emerging as a significant brake on future capability?

And haven’t we just disappointed SA SME industry by buying nuclear powered submarines, thus putting off by perhaps a decade the time when SME’s could expect to receive submarine contracts which they have already prepared for with the ditched French Attack design?

This is not to mention whether the latter potentially introduces ‘another valley of death’ for the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide which is facing a hard task to recruit and train the 4,500 workers who will one day be building nuclear submarines?

Surely building a naval vessel in Adelaide, or at Perth’s Henderson Marine Complex which faces similar challenges, might have helped retain and build the workforce?

Former senator Rex Patrick certainly supports this view and said: “Instead of building this ship in Australia, which would have helped sustain and build our sovereign naval shipbuilding workforce, (Anthony Albanese) has simultaneously exported Australian taxpayers money while selling out Australian industry.”

Patrick has set himself up as something of a constant critic of the Albanese government since he left Parliament, but his concers need to be addressed, as do those raised by ballistic armour manufacturer XTEK boss Scott Basham over the weekend in the Canberra Times.

Basham raised the issue of Defence’s overlooking of the company’s Australian made rifle helmet which has been independently verified to resist 7.62mm rounds, making the technology globally leading and unique.

He pointed out that Australia’s current US made helmets are inferior to these, yet the Land Systems Division in Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group recently contracted for over $30 million to refurbish these inferior helmets for the same price as it would have cost to buy XTEK ones.

Why overlook such a great product, made in Adelaide, when support from Australian authorities would be invaluable in further marketing them overseas? Or conversely when our ADF not buying them might actually give other nations pause before they buy from XTEK?


Further reading:

Picture: Solstad Offshore/MV Normand Jarl

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