LHDs remain alongside as Defence grapples with propulsion issues

written by australianaviation.com.au | April 26, 2017
File image of HMAS Adelaide approaching Fleet Base East (Garden Island) with HMAS Canberra in the background. (Defence)

The Navy’s two amphibious assault ships HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide remain tied alongside at Fleet Base East, Sydney while Defence investigates issues with the LHDs’ azimuth propulsion systems.

The issue first came to public attention almost a month ago on March 29 when ABC defence reporter Andrew Green reported that both vessels were out of service after propulsion issues were discovered with HMAS Canberra while it was undertaking first of class flight trials with Army and Navy helicopters off the coast of Queensland in March.

“During these activities, a propulsion issue was identified aboard HMAS Canberra and she is currently alongside in Sydney being inspected,” Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Tim Barrett wrote on the Defence website on March 28.

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“As a prudent measure, the same inspections were conducted on HMAS Adelaide and identified emergent issues.

“Having identified these emergent issues the ADF has put in place a very deliberate plan to investigate the issue and resolve it.”

However, the issues with the azimuth propulsion systems remain unresolved, with an April 25 news story in the Daily Telegraph by Matthew Benns reporting that “an investigation found maintenance and oil changes were not being done properly”.

This assertion was disputed by Deputy Chief of Navy Rear Admiral Michael Noonan, who wrote a clarifying “On the Record” statement subsequently posted on the Navy Daily website.

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“Defence has maintained and operated HMA Ships Canberra and Adelaide in accordance with the builder’s specifications, including the oils and lubricants used in their operation,” RADM Noonan, who is Acting Chief of Navy, wrote.

“Defence’s leadership is not “baffled” by these emergent issues, but it is still too early to determine the full extent of this emergent work. Defence has, and continues to work closely with industry and the original equipment manufacturers, Navantia, Siemens and BAE, to identify the root cause of the issues and develop the most appropriate repair strategy.”

HMAS Canberra was commissioned in November 2014 with HMAS Adelaide following in December 2015, but both ships are yet to be declared fully operational.

“Defence has taken prudent measures to ensure the operational test and evaluation period of the vessels is sufficiently thorough to ensure they will serve the nation for decades to come,” wrote RADM Noonan.

He continued that “it remains too early to determine the extent of this emergent work and Defence is working to identify the causes and develop a repair strategy.”

The 27,500 tonnes displacement LHDs are powered by two 11-megawatt Siemens azimuth propulsion system thrusters with dual propellers mounted on 360-degree steerable pods driven by onboard electric motors – electricity for which is generated by the ships’ combined diesel and gas powerplant system. The LHDs’ azimuth propulsion systems and plus their twin bow thrusters – similar configurations are fitted to large cruise ships – greatly improve ship manoeuvrability compared to conventional fixed-screw arrangements.

Cutaway image of the Canberra class LHD showing on the ships’ two azimuth propulsion systems. (Defence)

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13 Comments

  • John Reid

    says:

    I wonder if the Spanish original (Juan Carlos) has had similar issues and if not, why not….

  • Grumpy

    says:

    @ John Reid, I’ll second that.

  • Daryl

    says:

    Seems there might be some truth to the old Castrol advert from years ago…..”Oils aint Oil’s”

  • Craig

    says:

    I believe the ships are still on OT&E phase so its not uncommon to find faults. The azipod is a good idea and are fitted to a large number of ships these days, particularly cruise ships. A number of cruise ships have had problems with the azipod, for example, when Queen Mary 2 first started out, she had a number of problems which caused cruise shortening and cancellations while they tried to resolve the issues.

  • Jasonp

    says:

    A commercial system not up to Milspec?

  • Richard

    says:

    Richard says- Jasonp, it looks like you have seen ATSB report MO 2017 003 of 27 April 2017 re Azipods.

    You get what you pay for I suppose.

    It would be better and cheaper in the long run to build to Naval standards.

    Maybe the crew would feel more confident as well.

  • Martin

    says:

    Azipod is a trade name for ABB’s podded propulsion system. As such, the Siemens units should really be referred to as simply podded propulsion units, not Azipod.

    A search on the internet will reveal a number of reports and technical papers related to issues with podded propulsion on a range of different podded propulsion systems on both commercial and military ships including a report into the recent cruise ship incident off the Victorian coast as recently released by the ATSB.

    Happy reading.

  • Hayden.R

    says:

    @Craig,

    Your right, its still early days for these ships.

  • Richard

    says:

    Hayden, I suppose you are correct – if you keep throwing money at a problem it will sooner or later go away.

    Why did this happen in the first place?

    Why does the RAN have so much trouble with ships? Why does the RAAF seem to arrange things better re aircraft?

  • Random

    says:

    @Richard.

    One acronym for you – FMS.

    Everything the RAAF gets under FMS works pretty much brilliantly (C17, FA18 Supers). Likewise most Navy (Romeo SeaHawk) & Army (CH47F) delivered through FMS are after LRIP and have arrived on time, in budget and working for the most part very reliably.

    Having said that, the non-FMS RAAF buys are beset by just as many problems as the ships (Wedgetail, KC30 etc all had significant delays). Likewise the Army’s European helicopters, and Navy Seasprite was a complete failure.

    Ships for the most part can’t be procured via FMS for Navy – because our geography creates unique problems. All too are often ship production is beset by problems – for several reasons:

    1. Low production rates and specialised bespoke designs mean we can’t leverage effectively of international production
    2. Government persistence to derive local industry Involvement means employment of hybridised systems (which are always possible in theory, but never really run smoothly in practice).
    3. Manufacturers tend to promise more than can be reasonably delivered (and they often know that once contracts are signed, Governments will do almost anything to avoid a ‘Seasprite’ style total failure.
    4. Projects are subject to scope creep from all angles (Govt, ADF, general public, changing global politics).

    FMS is great when it can be used but ships tend not to fall into that category, and there are plenty of occasions where Government has determined the procurement pathway to suit political purposes.

  • Richard

    says:

    Thanks Random – FMS was the answer I was looking for.

    The real problem is your point number 2 and I agree with that.

    History has shown us that overseas warship designs are are perfectly OK. For example the Daring Class destroyers, Type 12 frigates, Charles F Adams and Perry Frigates, Oberon Submarines and Meko/Anzac Frigates.

    All of these classes of ships, some built in Australia, were by and large unaltered from the original design and were successful in service.

    I also agree with your point four except that with ships, as aircraft, we should leave well enough alone and stick with the original design.

    I accept however that the Sabre was extensively modified in Australia and some say the Avon Sabre was the best of the lot.

  • Martin

    says:

    Richard, Random,

    So does F35 fall into the FMS category too?

  • Martin

    says:

    …and was C130J acquisition FMS? It had teething problems initially… and finally, was F-111 purchased under what was the equivalent of FMS in its time? If so, then so much for FMS. If not, then what would have stopped the same problems from occurring under an FMS arrangement for all of these types?

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