Fleet Support Unit evolving to meet needs of future fleet

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Dave Devlin (author), ABIS Jarrod Mulvihill (photographer), LSIS Kylie Jagiello (photographer)

Topic(s): Fleet Support Unit

Leading Seaman Boatswains Mate Krystal Carter spray painting in the  spray booth and baking oven at the Surface Finishing workshop at Fleet Support Unit - West, HMAS Stirling, WA. (photo: LSIS Kylie Jagiello)
Leading Seaman Boatswains Mate Krystal Carter spray painting in the spray booth and baking oven at the Surface Finishing workshop at Fleet Support Unit - West, HMAS Stirling, WA.

Supporting the Royal Australian Navy Fleet by providing repair and maintenance services is the core function of the Fleet Support Unit and its regional hubs across Australia.

Fleet Support Unit (FSU) has more than 800 employees and represents over five per cent of the Navy’s uniformed workforce.

It has an important role to play, both in offsetting the cost of the Fleet’s sustainment and in providing meaningful work for sailors ashore, aiming to improve their skills and technical mastery.

Executive Director FSU, Captain Greg Laxton, said FSU had changed considerably over the years.

“It has an expanded services scope and is more customer oriented and data driven. 2019 has seen some remarkable achievements.

“Coming into this year, our workforce utilisation wasn’t where we wanted it to be, we didn’t have consistent, accurate data for planning and resourcing and we were suffering from extremely high staff churn, affecting our ability to provide consistently high quality maintenance outcomes.

“What’s really pleasing is that coming to the end of the year, we’ve made significant inroads on all fronts. It has been a great team effort to make that happen,” Captain Laxton said.

He said utilisation of FSU’s workforce has almost doubled from the start to the end of 2019.

“And FSU has provided a sustainment cost offset of $30m - funding that can be redirected where it is needed to keep the Fleet in peak condition,” he said.

This year, FSU has deployed regionally and around the world with 111 sailors delivering 10,800 hours of maintenance, representing $1.2m value.

“We have improved our processes and streamlined our project bids, working more collaboratively with the Ship Support Offices and our industry partners to take on more of the Fleet’s sustainment burden, as well as gaining insights to the ‘reasons why’ when FSU have not been allocated tasks,” Captain Laxton said.

“We’ve worked with the Navy People Career Management Agency (NPCMA) to provide longer postings for key positions, providing greater stability and keeping key skillsets we need within FSU.

“We’ve also introduced ways to better cope with staff churn, including a new induction and on boarding process for new starters,” he said.

A key initiative which has underpinned the changes at FSU has been the introduction of a tool called IMPPACT, developed in-house for FSU’s unique requirements and rolled out to all units at the beginning of 2019. This provides data for project planning and resourcing longer term.

IMPPACT allows FSU personnel to look at the productivity and utility of the workforce down to individual work centres, so they can work to proactivity plug the gaps.

The new IMPPACT dashboard allows both the National Office and the regions to view key FSU metrics against targets, real time.

Leading Seaman Electronics Technician Luke Oldham has had three postings to FSU-West throughout his career and has noticed the changes.

“Each time I have been back I have seen the new and exciting apparatus, machines and tools to help us complete tasks.

“The most rewarding part is seeing other sailors walk past a job on base that we have undertaken and hearing them say it looks really good,” Leading Seaman Oldham said.

Able Seaman Maritime Logistics-Supply Chain Kirk Harwood said working at FSU has allowed him to gain a diverse range of skills.

“Compared to working in a normal warehouse environment, I’ve been able to perform tasks such as helping with the procurement, planning for ship maintenance tasks and liaising with contractors.

“I would highly recommend this posting, I have learnt so much more about what goes on behind the scenes,” Able Seaman Hardwood said.

Able Seaman Brandon Mattsson agreed that FSU was a great place to work.

“It provides respite after long deployments, has enabled me to develop skills I require by completing multiple system courses and has allowed me to consolidate that knowledge by being part of the Fleet Support Team,” he said.

During 2020 the plan is to develop FSU further, with enhanced capabilities, further disseminating data to drive productivity and quality outcomes, and consolidating Ships Program Office and industry collaboration. The aim is to have consistent core maintenance activity locked in, as well as being able to respond with agility to ad hoc projects as they come up.

“We still have a way to go to truly optimise FSU, but we are on the right track. We need to make sure we do evolve and adapt, so FSU can work at its full potential and meet the needs of the future fleet,” Captain Laxton said.