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Comment: confirmation of submarine deal a boost to Australian research

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Associate Professor Jonathan Binns

Associate Professor Jonathan Binns

Having announced earlier this year that the French company DCNS were the preferred supplier of Australia’s new fleet of 12 submarines, the news that Australia and France have formally sealed the agreement — worth A$50 billion — is very welcome.

Submarines are extremely complex to design, engineer and build: 1600 subcontractors are required to achieve the task, compared to 550 to build a Boeing 777 and 600 to build a frigate. Being fully submerged in the ocean environment makes even simple tasks complex, with every element of the submarine demanding extreme accuracy.

I am Director of the ARC Research Training Centre (RTC) for Naval Design and Manufacturing, which addresses this complexity by connecting researchers based in universities, government and industry with students across the maritime space.

Nine of our thirteen RTC researchers are directly connected to tackling problems that could restrict the efficient design, construction and sustainment of this next generation of submarines. Their focus includes reducing vibrations and noise, minimising the build-up of organic matter on vehicle sensors, using robots to efficiently inspect fuel tanks, and reducing the corrosion that degrades submarine parts.  

The precise integration of the results of these research projects to the final designs is not finalised at this stage; this is the nature of research. However, the real bang for buck comes with capacity building.  The researchers driving these projects will be able to transition from industry, to government, to university, whilst scoring highly for each stakeholder.

Within the university sector, we haven’t seen the details of the DCNS designs to the level that is required to see how our research is required. This will come in the next years of development, implementation and maintenance.

But with the agreement of this contract, we have the commitment, infrastructure, people and training to make sure that Australia makes the most of these opportunities now and well in to the future.

Published on: 21 Dec 2016