Sunday, November 27, 2011

What is normal for the Australian Navy?

This article states more woe with the Australian Navy's fleet readiness.

Since all navies have a percentage of their ships in some sort of repair cycle, I don't know what is considered normal for the RAN.

There are some more severe mentions in the article that point to outright waste.

Two of the navy's newest ships, minehunters HMAS Hawkesbury and HMAS Norman - built by Australian Defence Industries in Newcastle and commissioned in 2000 - were "decrewed" and placed into reserve this year.

If the ships were required to come back into service, the Department of Defence estimates it would take up to five years to bring them back to operational status.

There also seems to be events of rework where repairs were not done right the first time.

Available crew for the ships is still a problem.

Australia is a nation that needs frigates, patrol boats, troop transports and logistics ships. I would like to put submarines on that list but skills are short there too.

How ships that are bigger, more expensive to operate and require more crew (the planned Air Warfare Destroyers and the Canberra flattop amphibs) are going to be sustained over their service life is a big question mark.

I suspect more long-term dock space to park them will be required because this navy and defence community is not skilled enough to keep what they have in an operationally ready status.

The taxpayer generously pays $27B for Defence each year. What they get in return is low value for the money spent.


Ely said...

And the RAN's Fleet Air Arm is now down to being able to deploy only 4 occasionally 5 Seahawk Flights to sea-which is the lowest/least ORBAT ever. We await the outcome (this was due EO OCT11) of the Minister's second review of the developmental and delayed MRH90. This helicopter was due to commence the assumption of the retiring Sea King's role 18 months ago.

Anonymous said...

Eric, I think you meant that this was an example of "waste" - not "waist" - the former being unwarranted expenditure of resources, the latter being part of your anatomy.

The RAN does have a manpower crisis (so does the ADF more generally), what do you think the solutions to this might be?

Anonymous said...

Pay the troops appropriately might be a start?

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting, Anon, that the current pay offer (9% over 4 years, same as the public service), may not be enough, indeed could even be seen as insulting?

Anonymous said...


Too large a waist *is* an unwarranted expenditure of resources....


Anonymous said...

If anyone had half a brain, Navy would be on the next Aircraft to the the UK to pick up endless numbers of retrenched and disaffected specialists and tradesmen from the Royal Navy.
And anon it is not the pay, it is the disruption to family life being moved every two to three years.Guess what, wives have careers too.
They will never get it right.

Goldeel1 said...

I agree with anonymous #5 (whats with the lack of names here guys? See how confusing this gets.) Anyone not looking to pick up specialists from the UK when they have been savagely downsizing should have their head examined.

I also agree on the issue of it not so much being about pay but, family pressure. Once upon a time in 1950's Australia dutiful wife waited at home for hubby to return to see in a defence house sans job let alone career. Those days are gone and now that same modern day equivalent wife has a job, career and life. In fact it is increasingly the husband now in that role. Navy and Defence in general have been pretty unrealistic to expect spouses to just uproot and "go north" when expected. And this is precisely why 25 year old obsession with closing southern bases and moving everybody up to FNQ or Darwin or some other remote tropical steam bath location has contributed significantly to the problem of service retention. What kind of sane person wants to leave behind friends, family and spouse careers to live in a place where you sweat while sitting still for at least 9 months of the year? Defence and importantly, Governments failure to resist sticking it's hands into the cookie jar of lucrative defence land asset sales has removed more and more postings in places like Sydney and Melbourne that are the natural breeding grounds of so many who enter service life. It might be ok as an 18-25 year old to do a couple of years up north but it is a whole other thing to expect more mature and married service people to do the same, and so they leave. Sadly this message just doesn't seem to get through to the "Im alright jack" senior brass who are sitting in Canberra or Sydney or Melbourne or the public servants/politicians who have once again made noises about selling off assets like Garden Island or RAAF Richmond.

Albatross said...

...and you expect the wives of "disaffected Poms" to accept long term postings for their husbands to the sweat boxes you describe? (I do agree though, that if we can't find enough personnel to crew the RAN's ships, the UK should be rich picking grounds for well-trained, experienced specialist staff.)

Anonymous said...

Dudes, I'm posting as anonymous because I dont have any option, plus I'm still an active ADF member and some of my views may be controversial. I'm reporting to you from one of those tropical steam baths Goldeel 1 mentioned (Darwin). There's no other way to say this - the climate here sucks, especially this time of year. I think you have largely hit the mark with your comment. After 25 years in the Army, I've come to the conclusion that as far as Governments are concerned, when it comes down to brass tacks, the ADF is really a jobs creation program and a way to shore up difficult electorates. It was ever thus. Why is the Army's aviation training centre at Oakey? Why is Army's Soldier Career Management Agency (SCMA) at Fort Queenscliff (thank John Howard and is fears of losing that electorate in 2004 for that one)great place, but completely dysfunctional. And the biggest one: why is Army's only mechanised Brigade in Darwin where its too wet to train in armoured vehicles for 6 months of the year? Simple, in the mid-late 1980s the NT economy was in a hole, and this was an easy way of being seen to do something about it. The fact is it worked, but the Inpex gas project will dwarf any difference that the ADF has made here.

The trouble is when the contest between realpolitik and ADF retention is on - there aint no way the politics will lose.

Bushranger 71 said...

We did get great value by offering a bunch of RAF pilots, Iroquois and Caribou roles during the Vietnam War; but there is now more than a trickle of good citizen 'Poms' who have been in this land for decades deciding to return home to their mother country. Not hard to see why when you consider what the ideological vandals in Canberra are doing to this once proud nation; although the future in Europe also looks shaky.

The origin of diminished esprit-de-corps and snowballing dysfunctionality in the Australian armed forces was in 1974 when the Whitlam government implemented the Tange Defence Re-organisation, creating an amorphous thinly-veiled unified Australian Defence Force which is now under Public Service control in lieu of positive political direction. Both of the major political parties have been complicit in the subsequent dismantling of military infrastructure since that time, like shedding on base married quarters and civilianising running of messes. There are even 'No Saluting' signs in some areas of RAAF Williamtown!

The soul of the military has been diminished by political correctness which has been reflected in deficient political and military leadership. This is why so many of us both serving and retired involve in these forums. Just a bloody sad state of affairs that can only be remediated to some extent by drastic re-organisation, but the political will seems unlikely to emerge.

Ely said...

The challenges of accommodating the posting and relocation demands of a Defence life are very difficult and sometimes unachievable for some families- it is sometimes a bastard of an existence.
But other first-rate outfits overseas seem to manage it ok somehow. And I wonder how they do that. I suspect as BR 71 points out that it has much to do with pride and esprit de corps.
I propose that until our procurement and support organisations can provide our operators across the board with proven first-class systems that actually will enable them to” fight and win” but also with sufficient capacity to provide for effective training, we will not keep sufficient of our front-line Defence people engaged or in uniform. Further, if the PR people of various hue and interest continue to under-report, distort and misrepresent the actual situation with the effectiveness and readiness of our systems and procurement performance “things” are very unlikely to improve. How can our people develop battle-winning pride and confidence if their gear and system do not work or do not exist-no matter how much they are paid?

Anonymous said...

The mining industry adapts to get the workforce they need. Fly in fly out.
Base your workfore where you need them, and house them where they want to live.
Not ideal, but perhaps ok for 12 to to 24 months at a time.
Alliance fly workers to WA from Brisbane for example.
Also to solve the crew problem for the Subs, base them in Sydney, or let crew live there and commute.

Anonymous said...

Options like fly-in/fly-out have already been tried with some RAN assets,I dont know how successful it was. That idea works well in the mining industry where you can work one week on one week off. Defence as it currently is simply doesn't work that way - most of us still have to be at work every day. But you guys are missing the point of my post above - Governments deliberately put defence assets in the places they do to in order to secure political and economic objectives. I suspect that most of the time its the main reason, often with a fig leaf of strategic justification tacked on for public consumption. With this reality, why would a government be interested in finding another way?

Anonymous said...

Ely, ADF personnel do not lack "battle winning pride and confidence" in any way. Quite the opposite. There is a long standing tradition in the ADF of taking the gear you are given and making it work - no matter what. Its always been this way and most of the gear that we have now (in Army at least) is better than its ever been and I have 25 years of experience to base that on. The stuff people have to actually use on operations does in fact work (body armour, Bushmaster etc). Our problem seems to be when it comes to acquisition of ships and aircraft - the really expensive stuff.

Anonymous said...

I agree, but the reality is that most time is spent on base and not out in the field due to lack of resources.(as usual)
Plenty of opportunity to commute.
Agree with re where the bases are. Total stupidity, and I see Smith is currently advocating more of same to be based in the North.

Anonymous said...

Following up on what I said earlier - Governments want ADF members AND their families in places like Darwin precisely because they want them to support local economies - its hard to imagine them allowing a commuting option on this basis.

I should also mention that the manpower crisis is not universal its in narrow specialist fields (like submariners). In recent years Army has been over its overall authorised strength and has had to actively look to lose people. The ranks most affected are WO1s and LTCOLs (funny that - these are the guys nearing retirement age). Part of the problem in the RAN (particularly for submariners) is that the perception in the community is that the lifestyle stinks. People these days don't seem real interested in spending months away from home on a ship - all of the time. Most ship deployments aren't that long, but that's the perception. Guys who do FI/FO for mining companies have told me that even there, after a while that lifestyle starts to grate, especially if you have kids because you are only home half the time (or less). So there probably isn't an ideal solution.

Bushranger 71 said...

My prior comment re esprit-de-corps poses a question whether military service is now seen as just a job or a lifelong career.

Some decades back, many would have committed to virtual lifetime service if not then inhibited by age/rank related mandatory 'retirement'. That foolish policy wasted a lot of very experienced and dedicated people. Now, Senior Officers retire at 65 and the rest at 60; which is really back to front as the soul of any armed force is the operating level from Lieutenant Colonel downwards. But the question begged is why have mandatory retiring ages at all when people function quite effectively in their 70s and 80s at high levels in the business world? Would it not be better to have just notional retiring ages for pension purposes and option to continue service 'on medical condition'; subject of course to suitable checks and balances? And, the Services also seem much over-ranked; but that's another argument.

Re basings and family support issues.

Early 1960s, I was based at Darwin flying the local Dakota and one of our magnificent Airfield Construction Squadrons was then upgrading airfield infrastructure to enable broader strategic utilisation. Then; one Friday, the OC tasked myself and another Flying Officer to come up with an analysis over the weekend of how much it might cost to relocate Darwin airfield further southwards.
So; with scant worldly wisdom, we somehow came up with a figure of around $550million in then dollars embracing such needs as adjacent ammunition dumps with rail infrastructure, fuel installations, water supply, weapons ranges, etcetera. The glaring issue to us was aviation fuel transportation, not being adjacent to a port from where fuel could be delivered by pipeline.

Sometime later, it was decided a new airfield would be built at Tindal near Katherine only about 160 nautical miles from Darwin, which hardly stacked up as a strategic advantage compared with the coastal major airfield at Darwin. I did the first landing on Tindal after WW2 when ACS had cleared enough eucalypt suckers that were growing through the old pavement.

When Confrontation with Indonesia emerged early in 1963, the RAAF deployed an 8 aircraft detachment of Sabres to Darwin for air defence (I was then serving on fighters). This deployment continued through to early 1967, latterly involving Mirages in lieu of Sabres. Normal detachment duration was 2 months which worked fine because a very good family support infrastructure existed at Williamtown with appreciable on-base married quarter accommodation.

Similar family support networks and essential domestic facilities (kindergartens, schools, comprehensive shopping facilities, etcetera) existed at Darwin; but when Tindal was completed in 1981 and No. 75 Squadron redeployed there from Butterworth, deficiencies in such infrastructure, due largely to the isolation of Tindal/Katherine, caused the Air Force considerable difficulties.

Nowadays, military families are more scattered among the broader community and maybe the essential family support camaraderie necessary to enable reasonable duration periodic deployments of serving personnel on rotational deployments is no longer adequate.

Bushranger 71 said...

Apologies; 75SQN redeployed from Butterworth to Darwin in 1981 pending completion of Tindal which eventuated in 1988. The Squadron then relocated to Tindal after re-equipping with F/A-18 Hornets and all of the domestic shortcomings became apparent compared with resources available at Darwin.

Bushranger 71 said...

OOPs; another goof. Early 1960s was pre-decimal currency in this land so the guesstimated cost of rebuilding Darwin military airfield elsewhere must have been around 550 Australian pounds. Perhaps not far out if anybody is keen to research useless information.

By the way; a few years back we estimated having lived in 50 plus different accommodations, majority of those during military service. 5 interstate postings in my last 6 years of service with attendant schooling penalties for 5 daughters. Retired a year early at 41 after 4 years at Wing Commander rank and unlikely to have been further promoted to extend service.

Ely said...

Anon of 281256 Nov11, Thanks for your reply. I am unable to discuss your 25 years of experience (and I don’t diminish it) Nor can I usefully discuss Body Armour or the Bushmaster because I know too little about the systems, their development and fielding histories.
But my point remains that the achieved performance of a number of ADF major projects, regardless of DMO’s point that amongst the population of projects they are a minority, has not been either dependable, sufficient or timely. One of the consequences of this is that effectiveness, readiness and user confidence have in a number of key areas of capability not been established and have even occasionally been diminished. In my own reasonably lengthy uniformed ADF experience the factor has and continues to be a detrimental influence upon job satisfaction, retention and I dare say recruitment.
And of course our people are adaptable and have always done the best with what they have on the day! Long may it be so.

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