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From Oberons to Saab – submarine upgrades are not just about installing new equipment

5 min read

“Every day I have the opportunity to work with complex and innovative technology, ranging anywhere from underwater and remotely operated vehicles, to submarines and their critical systems.”
- David, Sales Director Underwater Solutions, Saab Australia -

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Life at Saab

As part of Saab, every day I get the opportunity to work with complex and innovative technology.

David works closely with Saab’s end customers, whether they are based in Australia or further abroad for allied navies, in understanding their capability needs and where Saab can help support their capability.

David’s passion and experience positions him uniquely to work with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) supporting the growth of the nation’s naval capabilities; whether that be enabling new capability, sustaining or upgrading existing capability and all the while, contributing to the strengthening of the Australian Defence Force’s operational performance.

Joining the Royal Australian Navy

Realising his ambition to join the Royal Australian Navy, David left school looking for a way to be a Technician in the Navy. At the time, it was difficult to find a Technician role – unless you joined as a Submariner. After seeing videos of the life of a Submariner, he decided: “why not? Not everyone gets an opportunity to wake up in a tin can under the waves of the Pacific Ocean!”

David began his service with the Navy on Australia’s Oberon class of submarines, then moving on to the Collins class of submarines. Having gained strong technical skills, he later pursued a Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical), complemented later in life by the completion of his Masters in Systems Engineering.

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“The journey through Navy training, in combination with an Engineering degree, gives you a better appreciation of both how the individual systems fit into the bigger submarine picture, and strategically where the submarine fits into the bigger defence force posture picture.”

Submarines are much more than just underwater stealth machines.

“Submarines are much more than just underwater stealth machines. While it doesn’t take a degree to know this, it certainly puts real meaning behind how systems work together and highlights the critical importance that systems-of-systems play in the operability of a submarine.”

David’s Submarine Experience

Following the completion of his Graduate studies, David’s career with the Navy spanned over 25 years.

Although predominately spending most of his Navy career on submarines, he also spent time on operational deployment in HMAS Adelaide in the Arabian Gulf, as the Third in Charge of the Electrical Engineering Department. The department was responsible for the technical integrity of various systems such as radars, sonars, communications and weapons systems.

As the Principle Naval Representative, I worked closely with ASC and other major contractors to ensure the effective and efficient contracted maintenance of the in-service Collins class submarines.

David then again spent several years on HMAS Collins, where he was responsible to the Commanding Officer for the technical integrity of the mission systems. With comprehensive experience and knowledge of the Collins class submarines, David was appointed as the Principle Naval Representative (PNR), for the sustainment of the Collins class. Throughout this role, David worked closely with ASC and other major contractors to ensure the effective and efficient contracted maintenance of the in-service submarines – this included everything from fixing a defect while based in domestic waters and minor maintenance issues, through to repairing urgent defects in international ports and the preparation, conduct and delivery of maintenance periods up to mid-cycle dockings (MCD).

“After my time on the Collins class, I had the opportunity to carry out a three-year exchange program with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), providing support for the in-service Victoria class submarines.”

“This experience was mutually valuable and having worked extensively on the Collins program, I was able to provide expertise to help support the Canadian submarine program to ensure that they were supportable, reliable, available and maintainable to the RCN.”

Design and engineering for through-life capability

“Properly understanding the design and engineering implications of a system and how they will effect related systems, as well as the overall capability and the impacts on the crew is absolutely critical to submarine capability. This was only reinforced as I worked across both sides of submarine capability; as part of the crew, as the customer, and working within industry to deliver enhanced capability.”

“It’s not just about getting new and upgraded capability on the submarine – but it needs to be useable and serviceable by the crew.”

“It’s not just about getting new and upgraded capability on the submarine – but it needs to be useable and serviceable by the crew.”

“It’s also about having ‘through life’ capability. My operational experience has given me a valuable insight into the importance of through-life capability - how do we effectively keep our capability operable and well maintained?”

“Too often, the ‘best’ systems are selected for the submarine, without thinking about the operational impact. It’s important to understand not only that the system needs to be changed or new capability introduced, but how it will impact other systems, user operability and the maintenance of the boat. We need to be selecting the best system for performance and considering through-life support and operability.”

“In my experience, you can best understand the significance of this criticality when you put the crew priorities and constraints first – time, resources and effort in a complex environment, largely underwater, which is not a natural environment for human survival.”

Quick facts about David