Imagine being able to silently slip through the deep and dark waters, way below where the ocean meets the surface. The stealth and the virtually undetectable nature of deep sea navigation is what life on a submarine is all about.
A submarine is a massive feat of engineering. It’s designed to carry people safely under water, and in times of conflict and war, gather intelligence by monitoring the land, air and sea and, of course, fire off torpedoes to sink enemy ships and other subs. In such times, a failure or break down is not an option.
So how does Defence maintain such an enormous asset?
Australia’s best-known and current submarine class, the Collins, is one of the navy’s biggest assets.
The Collins Class submarine is built by Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC). The first of the six commissioned fleet, HMAS Collins, was delivered to the Royal Australian Navy in 1996, now making it over twenty years old. But an asset such as a submarine cannot be delivered and without a plan for maintenance; known within ACS’s asset management plan as life cycle management. Included in the life cycle management program is full-cycle dockings—a process that takes two years and prepares them for the next ten years of service—each submarine undergoes system enhancements, and predictive and corrective maintenance, until the end of their operational life1.
The Collins Class submarines are the most complex vessels built in Australia; sustaining and upgrading the fleet needs to be done for likely another twenty years, in order to avoid a capability gap through the transition period with the inevitable future submarine project. That will make our Collins fleet over forty years old, keeping them operational long beyond the anticipated life of the asset.
To optimise the fleet’s capability and reliability, ASC assigns a Life Cycle Engineer to each vessel regardless of whether the asset is operational or undergoing its full-cycle docking2. Typically, two out of the six are undergoing maintenance at any given time, making ACS’ asset management plan for the sustainability of the Collins Class submarines exceed international benchmarks.
Currently, there is conjecture over whether to move the life-cycle docking maintenance programs to ASC West, in Henderson Western Australia, or to remain in ASC North in Osborne, South Australia. Despite the issue this dilemma presents for the government and other decision-makers, the place where maintenance happens doesn’t really matter. It’s doing the maintenance that is important and ACS is kicking goals with Collins Class.
Thanks to Life Cycle Engineer, Sammar Abbas, for his recent interview with Asset Management Council, published in The Asset Journal, June 2019, Vol 13, Issue 2.
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