Keeping the SEA 5000 Project on Track

June 3, 2020 – With a work trip to the UK ending early because of COVID-19, and after two weeks of self-isolation, Chen Xu is happy to be back at work.

Her role as the Commercial Director for the SEA 5000 Phase 1 Hunter Class Frigate Project keeps her occupied, with plenty of challenges.

“Every work day is different and I love it,” Xu said. “I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”

She started out in Defence as a DMO Graduate with science and law degrees in 2009, crediting the graduate program with giving her a great start to her Defence career.

“Following the graduate program I worked on a number of projects, in various roles, but mainly in the maritime space,” Xu said.

“In August 2016 I was promoted to the SEA 5000 Commercial Director role – a fantastic surprise while I was still on maternity leave.”

Now, after almost four years in the role, she is one of the longest serving project team members, managing a team of 20 commercial APS staff and contractors. Together, they manage the acquisition contract for the Hunter Class frigates and the finances for the Ship Acquisition Surface Combatants Branch.

It was initially a team of four.

Xu said says her proudest achievement was creating and building her team.

The SEA 5000 Phase 1 Hunter Class Frigate Project is one of the largest projects being undertaken by Defence, second only to the SEA 1000 Attack Class Submarine Project. It will provide nine anti-submarine warfare (ASW) frigates to replace the current Anzac Class fleet.

Xu said a former colleague described the long-term project as an “ultramarathon relay”.

“The nine frigates are being built in batches of three. The last three will not be completed and released into service until well into the 2040s. And when each frigate is finished they have to be sustained,” she said.

Xu and her team have been responsible for getting the acquisition “on contract”, from drafting the request for tender to contract signature in two years (very quick in comparison to similar projects here and internationally), and now managing and measuring performance against the contract.

“This is not just a Defence project – this is a nation-building, Australian shipbuilding industry project,” Xu said.

“I work closely with the Australian Industry Capability team and support their events to engage Australian industry in these projects.”

The new ships will be built by ASC Shipbuilding Pty Ltd at the expanded Osborne South Naval Shipyard in South Australia. This is one of a number of maritime projects being undertaken to ensure Australia retains capability in industry to build and sustain its naval vessels and implement the government’s commitment to a continuous build of naval surface ships in Australia.

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