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by Alicia Porter

Commodore Mark Purcell is leading a joint Navy and Defence Materiel Organisation reform program to implement the recommendations of the Plan to Reform Support Ships Repair and Management Practices. He recently spoke to Defence about how implementation is progressing.

In July 2011, the Defence Minister released Paul Rizzo’s Plan to Reform Support Ships Repair and Management Practices (the Rizzo Review), which looked at the repair, maintenance and sustainment of the Navy’s amphibious fleet.

A joint Navy and Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) reform program led by Commodore Mark Purcell was established to implement the 24 recommendations. One year on, activity remains high with ‘delivery’ the key theme for 2012.

"As articulated in the Rizzo Review and some other reviews, we dropped the ball over the last 10 years in terms of naval engineering and the importance of technical integrity, so we need to re-build it," Commodore Purcell says.

"Rizzo is a three-year program and we are trying to address the circumstances that led to the early decommissioning of the landing platforms amphibious. In looking at Mr Rizzo’s recommendations, we quickly identified that they weren’t just about the amphibious capability – the recommendations applied in varying degrees across the whole fleet. We also discovered that it wasn’t just about engineering, but a whole range of elements, including asset and capability management."

Commodore Purcell acknowledges that the problems identified in the review had been well documented over the past few years.

"One of the big things that came out of the Rizzo Review was that it wasn’t a surprise – all the issues had been documented previously through various reviews, and recommendations had previously been accepted, but they had not been fully acted upon.

Commodore Purcell says the program is progressing well and that the past 12 months have been about laying the foundations for the next phase of the program.

"We’ve been able to do some deliberate planning and go through the various committees to get the necessary resources," he says. "The Rizzo Reform Program has a clear mandate and the resources to deliver that mandate, so this year for us is all about delivery – that’s really what we’re focusing on.

"Effectively, the resources we’ve got today are the resources required to implement the necessary changes, but what we haven’t done yet and what we are doing now is quantifying the resource requirements necessary over the next decade to sustain the fleet."

Commodore Purcell points to a number of recent decisions that are indicative of a new approach within Navy and the DMO.

"As head of the Rizzo Reform Program, one of the most positive things I have seen has been the immediate change in the way senior leaders in Navy and the DMO are making decisions. Maintenance and through-life support has become a normal consideration when making decisions about the fleet.

"Some examples of this include the decision to reduce the operating days of Armidale Class Patrol Boats to address the maintenance backlog, and the appointment of Rear Admiral Tim Barrett as Fleet Commander with his experience in implementing Airworthiness for Navy’s Fleet Air Arm."

"Preparations for getting HMAS Success back to sea produced the first Seaworthiness Validation Plan, which detailed Navy and DMO aggregate risk across the operational, technical and safety domains."

Commodore Purcell says the change of culture in senior decision makers are good examples of the balance that is required.

"We’ve been driving towards balancing operational requirements with technical integrity rather than constantly saying that we can defer maintenance. There has been a decade of under-investment and neglect and what has been described as ‘normalised deviance’. Things that were once unacceptable have slowly become acceptable, so we need to reset the correct standard and maintain it."

Commodore Purcell says the biggest challenge over the next two years centres on ensuring that there is a cultural shift in attitude towards maintenance, as well as ensuring that the resources necessary for sustainment are obtained.

One of the driving principles is integration between Navy and the DMO – it is no good having the right engineering organisation if there isn’t the capability management system to support it.

"We are inter-dependent in delivering maritime capability and this includes maintaining technical integrity," he explains.

"Our approach to implementing change is different. The program is establishing mechanisms to ensure we know when it’s a good time to make change at the waterfront, how this change will occur and then deliver that change and make sure it sticks. Previously we’ve designed change in Canberra and expected it be affected at the waterfront. Making change is easy; making change stick is a lot harder."

To that end the Rizzo team has started to position business change teams in affected organisations at the waterfront. These teams will work with the affected organisations in developing and implementing the changes that will result from the Rizzo program.

Commodore Purcell is confident the program will be completed on schedule. "Mr Rizzo is the independent chair of the implementation committee to make sure we keep our eye on the ball and we have the resources necessary to deliver the required changes."

Key milestones

  • Two-star Head Naval Engineering appointed.
  • Two recommendations closed: ‘Constraining the Operation of HMAS Kanimbla’ on September 21, 2011, and ‘Controlling Acceptance into Naval Service’ on November 16, 2011.
  • Increased resourcing to Fleet Command, Amphibious and Afloat SPO, Surface Force and the Asset Management and Planning System Assurance cell.
  • The Reliability Centred Maintenance Organisation established within the Centre for Maritime Engineering and an academic program to up-skill Navy engineers began.
  • Maritime Capability Business Model developed.
  • Completed an assessment of the FFG SPO and Force Group against the Maritime Capability Business Model.
  • Introduced software upgrades and related improvements to policy, processes, training and data remediation for key maritime sustainment information systems.
  • Materiel sustainment agreement between Navy and the DMO and the product schedules for the Anzac Class, Armidale Class Patrol Boats (ACPBs), Guided Weapons and Collins Class Submarines transformed to capture mutual obligations.
  • Engineering future state blueprint and an engineering strategic plan developed.
  • Through-life cost of ownership developed for five priority platforms: the Anzac Class, FFG, Collins Class Submarines, Landing Helicopter Docks and Air Warfare Destroyers.

  • A significant reduction in the maintenance and engineering backlogs in Navy.
  • The decision to reduce the operating days of ACPBs to address the maintenance backlog.
  • The HMAS Success Seaworthiness Board had, for the first time, a seaworthiness validation plan detailing Navy and DMO aggregate risk across the operational, technical and safety domains.
  • Establishment of the Fleet Support Unit – Australia.