Big ticket shipbuilding programmes such as the Air Warfare Destroyer and amphibious warfare vessels have revitalised the local industry, which had contracted following completion of the Anzac frigate, Armidale patrol boat and Collins submarine programmes. However vital skills have been lost to other industries, in particular the mining sector, which has enjoyed sustained and massive growth for several years.

16th Jan 2012

 Naval shipbuilding


Byline: Nigel Pittaway / Melbourne

Big ticket shipbuilding programmes such as the Air Warfare Destroyer and amphibious warfare vessels have revitalised the local industry, which had contracted following completion of the Anzac frigate, Armidale patrol boat and Collins submarine programmes. However vital skills have been lost to other industries, in particular the mining sector, which has enjoyed sustained and massive growth for several years.

Building warships is a huge undertaking and it has been difficult for the sector to sustain the levels of activity required to keep skilled workforces intact and slipways busy, particularly given the relatively small size of the Royal Australian Navy. Several Australian shipbuilders have however enjoyed export success, particularly in the patrol boat sector.

Shipbuilding is more than just fabrication and the ‘boom and bust’ cycles of major defence warship programmes also takes its toll on the design and technical management companies divisions.

In spite of this, the sector remains relatively healthy and there is a diverse range of companies across the country. Space precludes an exhaustive survey of the industry but the following is a ‘snapshot’ of some of the major participants and key capabilities.


The State Governments of South and Western Australia, in particular, recognize the value of a healthy shipbuilding industry and have partnered with industry to develop local facilities.

Techport at Osborne in Adelaide has been constructed to support the Air Warfare Destroyer Alliance in the construction of the three vessels for the Royal Australian Navy.

The South Australian Government has invested over $300 million in Techport, which it says will also attract future naval and shipbuilding work to the state.

Included in the infrastructure is an eight-hectare Common User Facility, which has a wharf, runway, dry berth, transfer system and what it claims is the largest shiplift in the southern hemisphere. The shiplift is 156 metres long and 34 metres wide and capable of supporting a vessel of up to 9300 tonnes and is capable of expansion to 210 metres and capable of lifting up to 22000 tonnes in the future.

Techport also has adjacent industrial, commercial and education precincts to support construction activities. The supplier precinct includes AMI Marine, Babcock, Ferrocut, Le Fevre Developments, National Crane Hire and Pacific Marine Batteries as tenants.

As well as AWD activity, ASC is performing through life support for the Collins-class submarines at Techport and may also assemble the RAN’s future submarine there in the future.

In Western Australia, the Australian Marine Complex is a focal point for shipbuilding activity. Within the complex are BAE Systems’ Marine Support Facility and a Common User Facility, which is funded by federal and state money.

The Common User Facility was initially funded to $200 million but an additional $170 million has been contributed by the Western Australian Government to upgrade the facility.

One of its major features is a floating dock, capable of accommodating vessels of up to 12,000 tonnes and which, the Western Australian Government says, will add more than $2 million to the state’s economy over 25 years.

The Australian Marine Complex itself incorporates around 150 businesses, including specialists in shipbuilding and fabrication, technology and support. Major work carried out in the facility has included the conversion of the RANs fleet oiler from civil specifications and the ongoing Anzac ASMD upgrade programme, SEA 1448.


The AWD Alliance is a government/industry partnership formed in 2005 to oversee the design, development and construction of the three Air Warfare Destroyers under SEA 4000.

The major partners in the Alliance, based at the Techport facility in South Australia, are the Defence Materiel Organisation (project management and delivery), ASC (shipbuilder) and Raytheon Australia (Combat Systems Engineer). The wider team includes the RAN, DSTO, Navantia, Bath Iron Works, Lockheed Martin, US Navy, BAE Systems Australia and Forgacs.

The first hull blocks for the $8 billion project were delivered to the ASC, within the South Australian Government’s Common User Facility in August and the first ship is now undergoing assembly.

Illustrating the wide range of work undertaken, the Minister for Defence Materiel noted in November that 2100 workers across the country are working directly on the AWD project and expected to increase to 2400 at the peak of the project in 2012.

Formed as the Australian Submarine Corporation at Osborne South Australia, in 1985, ASC was announced the Prime Contractor to design and manufacture Australia’s Collins submarines in 1987. Today it is responsible for ongoing support of the fleet and claims to be Australia\'s largest specialised defence shipbuilding organisation, employing over 1900 people across three sites in South Australia.

In 2005 the company was awarded the shipbuilding role in the Air Warfare Destroyer programme and is a major member of the AWD Alliance.

Looking towards the Future Submarine, to be acquired under Project SEA 1000, ASC has formed Deep Blue Tech (DBT) for research and development for the programme. ASC says DBT is to be the designer for the lifecycle of the new vessels, which will be Australia’s biggest-ever Defence project.

DBT will initially study systems integration, combat modelling and simulation, concept formulation and design of ships’ systems.

In addition to the facilities in South Australia, ASC has a $35 million submarine support and repair facility within the AMC in Western Australia, employing 185 people in the support of the Collins boats.


Based at Henderson in Western Australia and with shipbuilding facilities in the United States, Austal began operations in 1988, specialising in the construction of aluminium vessels.

Austal designed and built 14 Armidale-class patrol boats for the RAN between 2005 and 2008 and continues to support them, primarily from its Darwin service centre. It has built patrol boats for Kuwait, Malta, Trinidad & Tobago and Yemen and most recently became Prime Contractor for the design, construction and in-service support of the new Australian Customs and Border Protection Service Cape Class patrol boat. Eight 58 metre vessels will be built in Henderson for delivery between 2013 and 2015 and includes an eight year service support contact, encompassing a full range of intermediate and depot level maintenance activities.

The company has enjoyed success in the US, where, with General Dynamics, it is building a competing design for the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) programme. It is also building the 103-metre Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV), the first of seven of which was christened in November.

“Austal’s input to the LCS and JHSV programs from its Australian operations is primarily in the area of design, with both vessels designed by Austal’s Australian team of naval architects and engineers, representing a significant technology export” a spokesperson said, “ We have also supplied specialised equipment to both the LCS and JHSV programmes including ride control equipment, switchboards and an integrated platform monitoring, alarm and control system.”

It is also carrying out communications system modernisation work on the Anzac frigates and says it sees further opportunities in Australia in the near future and also “very good” opportunities for further patrol boat sales in the international marketplace.

“Austal’s trimaran Multi Role Vessel designs are targeted at navies that, like the US Navy, recognise the advantages a flexible, high performance platform coupled with modular mission capability can provide, especially in terms of rationalising fleet sizes” said the spokesperson, “Projects of interest to Austal include the Navy’s SEA 1180 project to acquire multi role Offshore Combatant Vessels that will use modular mission capability to undertake offshore and littoral war fighting roles, border protection tasks, long-range counter-terrorism and counter-piracy operations.”


Australian Marine Technologies is an example of a design, technical and project Management Company that has enjoyed success beyond its original remit.

Originally established in 1987 to support Blohm and Voss in developing the Anzac ships from their MEKO 200 origins, AMT provided full configuration management on the first two and has used the experience gained to design a range of configuration changes since.

More recently, it has provided support to the Royal New Zealand Navy through its Anzac Platform System Upgrade (PSU) that, in part, oversaw an upgrade to the propulsion system, stability enhancement and compartment changes, the replacement of the Integrated Platform Management System and HVAC Systems upgrade.

AMT was also contracted by (then) Tenix Marine to provide principal, detail and production design for the conversion of the fleet oiler HMAS Sirius from the commercial product tanker MV Delos, under Project SEA 1654. For this work the company, along with the Project Office, won awards from the Institution of Engineers Australia for engineering excellence.


BAE Systems Australia’s Maritime division has major shipyard facilities at Williamstown in Victoria and Henderson in Western Australia, but is also active in other parts of the country, such as at Garden Island in Sydney, where it carries out work on the Adelaide-class FFGs under an Integrated Materiel Services contract.

The company is upgrading its Henderson facilities, where it supports the Fleet Base West Anzac frigates. In late November it won a $270 million contract to upgrade the remaining seven Anzacs with an Anti-Ship Missile Defence (AMSD) capability between now and 2017.

The Williamstown shipyard, acquired after taking over Tenix Defence some years ago is producing keel blocks for the Air Warfare Destroyers and is also fabricating the superstructure for the two 27,000-tonne LHDs. The company has been in the spotlight for slow delivery of AWD modules in recent times, attributed some of the blame to the shortage of skilled personnel, lost after the last Anzac ship left back in 2006.

Brent Clark, Head of Business Development, Strategy and Communications, says the hull blocks are now being fabricated in a timely manner, but the shortage of skilled workers remains a problem throughout the industry and foresees further losses from the shipbuilding industry as a whole, once the AWDs and LHDs are completed.

In particular, Clark says many shipbuilding skills translate directly to the mining industry and says BAE Systems is looking to venture into the resource sector itself. “There’s a lot going on in Western Australia and we want to focus on adjacent markets” he says, “but the resource sector is not a gap-filler, it will be a line of business for the company.”

Given a perceived gap between AWD/LHD construction and the next major shipbuilding projects, he also says the entire industry will again be challenged by the increased demand for skilled labour as the future projects come on-line in a short time span.

“The Federal Government needs to decide what it wants to do with ship construction here in Australia” he says, “We need to address this looming gap as early as possible

In the meantime he says work on the superstructure for the first LHD is progressing to schedule. Once the hull for the first ship arrives from Navantia in Spain in the middle of next year, BAE Systems will install the superstructure and begin integration of the ships systems prior to delivery to Navy in 2014.


A family-owned business, Birdon, maintains a slipway and marine facility at Port Macquarie in NSW, which includes a modern shipbuilding facility.

The company has carried out half-life refits of several the Pacific class patrol boats, originally built in Australia by (then) Australian Shipbuilding Industries between 1987 and 1997.

Birdon also provides Logistic Support for Mine Sweeping and Clearance Diving Assets in both the east and west coasts and was responsible for the disposal of the Fremantle class patrol boats


A division of the larger Forgacs Ship Repair and Engineering Group, the defence side of the company is currently active building hull modules for the AWD programme in its facility at Tomago in the NSW Hunter Region.

The shipyard was originally contracted to build 29 blocks across the AWD programme but the recent workshare reallocations has seen this increased to 40. Fourteen of the 31 hull blocks for the first vessel are under construction and the company will then build 13 for the second. The workshare for the third AWD is still under consideration.

In addition to the AWD work, Forgacs has carried out ship repair work for the Australian, French and New Zealand Navies and was responsible for the conversion of HMAS Kanimbla and Manoora prior to their entry into service in the 1990s. The RANs landing ship, HMAS Tobruk, was constructed at the Tomago facility.

The family-run company currently employs around 500 people and has facilities in both New South Wales and Queensland.


Also based in Henderson is Strategic Marine, who have established themselves as a major manufacture of aluminium-hulled vessels and now expanded into the construction of steel ships.

Its 16, 400 square-metre facility within the Australian Marine Complex has produced over 140 patrol boats since 2001 and has altogether built over 260 for Australian, Nigerian, Singaporean, Malaysian and Kuwaiti government agencies.

Strategic Marine was also responsible for the fit out of the 99-metre floating dry dock at the Maritime Complex and expanded its footprint into Asia and beyond.

The company has its origins in the Geraldton Boat Builders Company, established in 1984 to produce high performance offshore fishing boats, which led to the delivery of over 70 vessels to the Singapore Police Coast Guard and Malaysian Water Police.

Strategic Marine Singapore, based within an 11,068 square-metre facility at Tuas on the Island has delivered more than 25 offshore service vessels since 2005. In 2007 the parent company purchased a 136,500 square-metre facility in the Dong Xuyen Industrial Zone at Vung, which it says is ‘fully equipped to produce sizeable steel vessels.’

It is also involved in a joint venture with Mexico’s Servicios Navales E Industriales (SENU), primarily building support vessels for the North American market.


Thales Australia’s Naval Division operates the major Fleet Base East facility at Garden Island in Sydney and has extensive experience with communications and sonar systems on several classes of Australian warships.

The Garden Island facility offers the largest graving dock in the southern hemisphere, which can accept ships up to 300 metres and a floating dock can take vessels up to 1000 tonnes. Further work is carried out in the Common User Facility within the Australian Marine Complex in Henderson.

The company (then Australian Defence Industries) constructed the RAN’s six Huon class Minehunters between 1994 and 2002, being responsible for the detailed design, construction, outfitting, systems integration, testing and delivery. It also developed the Adelaide class FFG upgrade, which included the installation of the vertically launched Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM), integrated active/passive under water warfare system suite, enhanced electronic surveillance and decoy systems and the provision of Link 16. All systems have been integrated with the company’s Australian Distributed Architecture Combat Systems (ADACS) C2 system.

Thales has also supplied sonar systems for the Anzac frigates, Collins submarines and Huon Minehunters.


Over the next decade or two there are several major naval shipbuilding projects set to get underway.

The Future Submarine programme will be Australia’s largest ever defence project, in monetary terms. According to the ASC, “SEA 1000 will place significant demands upon Australian industry and provide commensurate opportunities. Its scale will exceed that of any previous project and will require project management, industrial, and research and support capability capable of constructing and sustaining the future submarine capability over its entire life-cycle and which encompasses all integrated logistics support elements.”

In addition to submarines, there is SEA 1180 (Patrol Boat, Mine Countermeasures and Hydrographic vessel replacement) due to begin delivering a common vessel early in the next decade, SEA 1351 Phase 1 (replacement of east coast tugs) in the middle of this decade, SEA 1654 Phase 3 (Maritime Operational Support Capability - HMAS Success replacement), again in the early part of the next decade, SEA 5000 (Future Frigates) late next decade and possibly JP2048 Phase 4C, the acquisition of a strategic sealift vessel.


APDR at a glance