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Subject: www.theaustralian.news.com.au: 'Dad's navy' fills in for faulty ships
AMTP10F    2/2/2007 7:08:59 PM
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,21161964-31477,00.html * Mark Dodd * February 03, 2007 AN urgent recall of the $550million fleet of new Armidale-class patrol boats because of recurring fuel contamination problems has forced the deployment of a "Dad's navy" flotilla to secure the vulnerable Top End. All seven commissioned Armidale patrol craft, designed and constructed by West Australian shipbuilder Austal, are now tied up in Darwin because of fears that the fuel pumps could cause a catastrophic engine-room fire. Marine engineers told The Weekend Australian the pump on HMAS Armidale had cracked as a result of fuel contamination, spewing an explosive fuel mix into the vessel's confined engine-room space, a repeat of the circumstances that led to four deaths on HMAS Westralia in 1998. Fearing another catastrophe at sea, the Royal Australian Navy has ordered its entire patrol fleet back to base until the problem is fixed - but so far there is no solution in sight. It has ordered new fuel pumps for the ships, the first of which entered service in mid-2005, but has not been able to rectify the cause of the contaminated fuel. The navy said it was premature to speculate how long the problem would take to repair until "current trials and a design review have been completed early next week". "Investigations have determined that the failure appears to be related to water contamination in the fuel system. Similar failures led to the operational pause for the Armidale-class patrol boats in late 2006," it said. "Replacement (fuel) pumps have been obtained to minimise the impacts of these defects." The navy has moved quickly to plug the defence gap with a flotilla of warships that include ageing Fremantle-class patrol boats due for decommissioning. It is relying heavily on the Australian Customs Service to provide back-up with a loan of eight Bay-class boats. Additional naval support includes the mine hunter HMAS Gascoyne and a heavy landing craft, both of which can be easily outrun by fast illegal Indonesian fishing boats. The Armidale patrol boats were purpose-designed for long, fast-pursuit operations in the northern fishery zone, from Broome to Cairns. The northern maritime security force was joined yesterday by a "floating prison ship," the federal Government's latest weapon in the war to combat illegal fishing. Dubbed the prison ship by its critics, the 98m, $17 million Triton trimaran took to Australian waters for the first time in Darwin, ahead of an inaugural border patrol last night.
 
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Volkodav       2/2/2007 9:28:48 PM
I wonder if we would be having the same issues if we had bought 10 to 12 modified Meko 100's instead.  With Tenix's record on the Anzacs they could have built them very economically.http://www.tk-marinesystems.de/bilder/produkte/naval_ships/offshore_vessel.jpg">
 
 
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tjkhan       2/3/2007 3:38:30 AM

I wonder if we would be having the same issues if we had bought 10 to 12 modified Meko 100's instead.  With Tenix's record on the Anzacs they could have built them very economically.

 


 
Now what's the logic of this observation?
The ACPBs are what, 270 tonnes, 56.8 m long and have a crew of 21? By definition they are a Patrol Boat.
 
The Meko 100s are, what, 1,650 tonnes, 91 m long and have a crew of at least 75 (?). These vessels are corvettes.
 
So, what is being proposed is a quantum increase in size, capability and manning... for what purpose?
 
Next question, what do problems of fuel contamination/fuel system design have to do with moving from a 270 tonne vessel to a 1650 one?
 
Australia has moved from the Attack class PBs (146 tonnes) to the Freemantles (220 tonnes) and now to the Armidales (270 tonnes). Each upgrade has involved a significant improvement in capability and crew amenities. All however have been designed around a roughly similar crewing level.
 
Your suggestion involves moving from what seems to have been a proven formula for what reason?
 
I'm happy to have it explained to me. But at the same time, explain which other programmes you intend to cut.
 
Trev
 
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Volkodav       2/3/2007 7:50:13 AM
The Meko 100 is the design Malaysia chose when we were looking at a combined OPV / Corvette program with them.  If my memory serves me correctly the original plan was to build between 8 and 12 OPV's from the late 90's onwards to progressively replace the Fremantles.  These were the ships that the SeaSprites were originally intended for.  I was simply wondering if we would be having the same very basic design / quality issues if we had gone with an OPV in the mid 90's like originally planned. 
 
With the way Tenix have been churning out Anzacs it would have been better value for the economy over all to have gone for a related OPV or Corvette design as a Fremantle replacement.  Now we have the situation of having left the patrol boat replacement to the last minute, being forced to take the quick cheap option to the detriment of the industrial team that has delivered one of our only truly successful defence projects and due to a recurring safety issue we have the entire fleet in port instead of out patrolling where they should be.
 
 
 
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tjkhan       2/3/2007 1:10:45 PM

The Meko 100 is the design Malaysia chose when we were looking at a combined OPV / Corvette program with them.  If my memory serves me correctly the original plan was to build between 8 and 12 OPV's from the late 90's onwards to progressively replace the Fremantles.  These were the ships that the SeaSprites were originally intended for.  I was simply wondering if we would be having the same very basic design / quality issues if we had gone with an OPV in the mid 90's like originally planned. 

 

With the way Tenix have been churning out Anzacs it would have been better value for the economy over all to have gone for a related OPV or Corvette design as a Fremantle replacement.  Now we have the situation of having left the patrol boat replacement to the last minute, being forced to take the quick cheap option to the detriment of the industrial team that has delivered one of our only truly successful defence projects and due to a recurring safety issue we have the entire fleet in port instead of out patrolling where they should be.

 

 



 
Below is an article from The Age. It deals with the issue of the Seasprites, but at the same time refers to the OPV programme. I ask you to read this beacuse I think the decision to move away from the OPV Programme is explained.
 
The other three points I raise are these:
 
Firstly the fact the Malaysian adopted the Kehah Class boast is hardly an indicator for us. Malayasia has made some pretty unusual purchases in the past, so I hardly think we should necessarily take the lead from them..I suspect also that the Malaysians wanted a "warfighting" boat more than a patrol boat anyway,
 
Secondly, the Armidales are built by Austal. As I understand a yard with a very good reputation for quality. No one seems to know precisely what the cause of the problem is at the moment so in those circumstances your initial inquiry gooes beyond mere speculation;
 
Thirdly, I get back to my original point, you are looking at more than tripling crew size (to about 78) to apparently do the same job. If we bought ten of these things that's over 500, or (if my memory serves me correctly) roughly equivalent to the manning levels of two AWDs or over ten Collins Class submarines. There is not only an issue of cost here, there is also the issue of the possible misapplication of a rare resource (skilled crew);
 
Anyway, read on.
 
Trev
 
How a helicopter deal flew into trouble
By Mark Forbes
June 17 2002

Singapore's aerospace conference showcased a plethora of civilian and military hardware at the Changi Exhibition Centre in February. Nine hundred exhibitors offered a high-tech selection of weapons, executive jets, supersonic stealth fighters - even spacecraft design.

Senator Robert Hill, a newcomer to this secret world of defence business, was soaking it in as he strolled the exhibit's aisles, until he stumbled across Kaman Aerospace's stand. He froze.

In pride of place was a poster of its Seasprite helicopter, with the declaration "The right choice for the Royal Australian Navy". According to bystanders, the unfortunate salesman had just begun his spiel when Senator Hill informed him he was no less than the Australian Defence Minister and was far from convinced the navy had made the right choice when it signed up with Kaman to supply 11 Seasprite helicopters. Costs had blown out to more than $1 billion, he told the startled salesman, and the project was running three years late - if Kaman could deliver at all.

Today, Senator Hill is far less eager to discuss the Seasprite. He has refused to be interviewed on the subject. A spokeswoman said the minister would speak "when he had something new to say about the Kaman contract". He even blocked a request to photograph the unfinished helicopters - they are expected to be operational in 2006 - stored in a Nowra hangar that has already cost the government $30 million.

An investigation by The Age has uncovered major flaws in the government's handling of the project. According to leading figures in Aust

 
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Volkodav       2/3/2007 2:19:33 PM
Thanks for posting that article TJ it was very informative, it seems that Robert Hill had a much more difficult job than he should have had due to the incompetence of his predecessors.
 
I don't believe the problem is Austral as there have been no problems with the Bay class boats they built for Customs, it will probably turn out to be an issue with an out of spec or an appropriate component.  Things like that happen with major engineering projects that are rushed because the customer left everything until the last minute.
 
As to an OPV or corvette being bought instead of a patrol boat, what is wrong with the RAN having a war fighting capacity in its patrol vessels?
 
I have always had the belief that as Australia is a wealthy and advanced nation that has a comparatively small population with a small to medium sized defence force, that we should ensure that our service personnel have the best kit we can get for them.  The current catch cry is network centric and the thing I don't understand is where the Armidale's fit in to that.  They are purely and simply an evolved customs patrol boat and not a warship at all.  Do they have any war fighting capability?  Are they of any use in disaster relief? Are they even a satisfactory surveillance platform? 
 
They are what they were designed to be, an improved patrol boat that was ordered because the unexpectedly high work load placed on the Fremantles by the sudden influx of illegal entrants fugged up the previous plan of up grading them for another decade or so of service.
 
As to the crewing issue, the customs bay class have a crew of 8 to 10 the Armidales 21 but are crewed at 3 crews per 2 boats so the actual figure is 31 and an OPV would have a crew of 40 to 50.
 
You have undoubtedly heard the saying that Steel is cheap and air is free in reference to ship construction well it is true and while the temptation to fill a larger hull with lots of expensive goodies is there it is actually far more expensive when you build to tightly and then need to fit something that was never intended at a later date.  An OPV can be dramatically improved adding and swapping out systems a patrol boat can't.
 
The retention of trained personnel is the biggest issue the Navy has at this time with the very real prospect that we don't have enough trained personnel to deploy the ships we have.  Has it actually crossed anyone's mind that large automated ships are the way to go?  If you came from a trade or engineering back ground you would know that the bigger something is (within reason) the easier it is to automate and maintain and the fewer people are required to operate it.
 
 
 
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Arty Farty       2/3/2007 11:15:08 PM
The physical size of the patrolling area and the type of mission has to be taken into consideration.

With the amount of water that is being patrolled, the quantity of vessels is an important consideration. An OPV may have extra capabilities that the Armidales don't but, they can only be in one place at a time.

In terms of the missions being conducted - intercept, board and search trawler-size boats, the OPV is overkill.



 
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tjkhan    Volkodav    2/4/2007 5:31:46 AM
 
 
Thanks for posting that article TJ it was very informative, it seems that Robert Hill had a much more difficult job than he should have had due to the incompetence of his predecessors.
 
I did not seek this concession, and nor is it paticularly appropriate to go there in this discussion. Indeed the point of the article was simply to point to the concerns that the Navy had about the Meko 100/OPVs.....you have "championed" them, but it would seem that they were seen, even before they were built as unsutiable, for the task.
 
I don't believe the problem is Austral as there have been no problems with the Bay class boats they built for Customs, it will probably turn out to be an issue with an out of spec or an appropriate component.  Things like that happen with major engineering projects that are rushed because the customer left everything until the last minute.
 
This once again is your assumption. I seem to work on the basis of repeating the line often enough and then hope it will become accepted fact. The cause of the problem is currently unclear and it cannot be assumed it is caused by an allegedly "rushed" procurement programme.
 
As to an OPV or corvette being bought instead of a patrol boat, what is wrong with the RAN having a war fighting capacity in its patrol vessels?
 
Nothing, except that it adds to complexity, expense and manning levels. In other words it's like buying an S Class Mercedes Benz to go down to the corner shop to buy the milk.
 
I have always had the belief that as Australia is a wealthy and advanced nation that has a comparatively small population with a small to medium sized defence force, that we should ensure that our service personnel have the best kit we can get for them.  The current catch cry is network centric and the thing I don't understand is where the Armidale's fit in to that.  They are purely and simply an evolved customs patrol boat and not a warship at all.  Do they have any war fighting capability?  Are they of any use in disaster relief? Are they even a satisfactory surveillance platform? 
 
You are correct that we are a relatively wealthy and advanced nation, and indeed we do have a small to medium sized defence force. We also have a limited defence budget. It is simply pointless to constantly say we need more of  "this" or a bigger "that" simply because it might make you or someone else feel good about "this" or "that" . It's a question of priorities and it's a question of spending money wisely.....Put another way I would far prefer to see money spent on (for instance) spall liners for our ASLAVs that buying a bigger patrol vessel/corvette simply because Malaysia has bigger ones than us.
 
As for the question: Are they a satisfactory surveilance platform? The answer has to be that they are but part of a surveilance suite....other elements, when added to the Armidales, make for a "satisfactory" although by no means perfect surveilance network. It is because of this that the ADF has recently trialed (in conjuction with the Armidales, The General Atomics Mariner UAVs.
 
They are what they were designed to be, an improved patrol boat that was ordered because the unexpectedly high work load placed on the Fremantles by the sudden influx of illegal entrants fugged up the previous plan of up grading them for another decade or so of service.
 
That is simply wrong.....once the OPV project was killed off there was always an intention to move to a replacement for the Freemantles.
 
As to the crewing issue, the customs bay class have a crew of 8 to 10 the Armidales 21 but are crewed at 3 crews per 2 boats so the actual figure is 31 and an OPV would have a crew of 40 to 50.
 
Sorry, your proposal was for the Meko 100. The crewing is about 78, not 40 or 50. As for the Armidales, your number crunching is disingenuous. There are three crews to ensure high utilisation of the vessels. If we had larger vessels we could and prbably would need to do the same thing, simply to ensure adequate coverage of our coast.
 
 
You have undoubtedly heard the saying that Steel is cheap and air is free in reference to ship construction well it is true and while the temptation to fill a larger hull with lots of expensive goodies is
 
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Volkodav       2/5/2007 7:23:33 AM
Trev, my original reply to this post, including the photo, was is down to the fact that I had been leafing through an article comparing patrol boats / FAC's to OPV's / Corvettes and had recently also read another article about the success of the Anzac Frigate program including the fact that ship 10 had just been delivered ahead of schedule and under budget for a cost of a little over $100,000,000.  Also I had just read ASC's "Submission to Inquiry into naval shipbuilding in Australia
Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee".
 
(A good read if you have the time)
 
This combined triggered the memory that Transfield had bid for the Malaysian OPV contract as part of a proposed joint program during the mid 90's which the Meko 100 subsequently won.  I wondered to myself what if the RAN had proceeded with the OPV / Corvette purchase instead of going for a new generation patrol boat, so I posted my thoughts.
 
I do realise that the budget is limited but as a voter and a tax payer I believe in exercising my democratic right to disagree with how it is spent.  Also people are free to disagree with me because without argument and discussion things just tend to stagnate to the detriment of all.  I for instance disagree with many decisions that the Hawke / Keating governments made having in actual fact been personally, adversely affected by some of their actions.  However as Howard has been in power for over 10 years most of what is happening now is down to the decisions of his government so I will obviously spend more of my time thinking about and commenting on that.
 
An issue I have is that errors are still being made and lessons do not appear to have been learnt.  A big factor today as opposed to the 80's and 90's is that we now involved in an ongoing armed conflict with our people in the line of fire.  Yes ASLAVS need spall liners and Bushmasters need RWS, but why are we at the same time spending scarce defence dollars on updating M113's when the resulting A3 and A4 models will be too out dated and dangerous to deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan or any other combat zone?
 
I do believe Australia would have been better served by a class of OPV's than by a new class of patrol boats, this is not because they look or sound sexier but because they are better for patrolling Australia's huge EEZ.  They can safely operate in the Southern Ocean, they can when necessary deploy helicopters greatly increasing not only their surveillance capacity but also their general utility.  They can carry and deploy useful numbers of SF, medical, engineers etc as the situation requires.  It's not just my belief either, I refer you to the US LCS project and also to the great interest being shown in Australs Trimaran Corvette concept.  Please also remember that following the Tampa incident and the general public becoming aware of the huge people smuggling issue the RAN was forced to surge major fleet units to our northern waters as the patrol boats couldn't cope.  A fleet of OPV's would have been very useful then.
 
I liked the analogy of the S Class Merc but one that better fits is if you can only have one car would you buy Honda Jazz because its good for doing the shopping and commuting to work while forgetting about the fact you need to tow a trailer or a caravan, you need room to take the kids and the dog to the beach and you need seven seats to take the inlaws out on the week ends?  Some times you are better off spending more money to get something that better fills more of your requirements than spending less up front on something that does some of what you need very well but is totally useless for anything else.
 
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