UNSW Canberra expands “grey-ship” focused naval architecture program

Setup for a model inclining experiment (Photo: UNSW Canberra/Warren F. Smith)

A new engineering honours degree program in Naval Architecture at UNSW Canberra (imbedded at the Australian Defence Force Academy) began in 2022.

At the beginning of semester two, another three new courses are being taught in the new Naval Architecture program: ZEIT3751 Hydrodynamics of Ships and High-speed Craft, ZEIT3752 Ship Structures and ZEIT3753 Design of Ships and High-speed Craft. All undergraduate teaching has also moved back to being face-to-face.

Warren F. Smith, the Naval Architecture Coordinator at UNSW Canberra’s School of Engineering and Information Technology, said that two undergraduate Bachelor of Engineering (BE) programs represent phase one of the enterprise, but the university expects that related postgraduate and research activities will naturally develop. The first specialised NA third Year undergraduate courses will be taught in Semester 1, 2022, with the programs built on a common first and second year foundation with Mechanical (and Aeronautical) Engineering.

The university anticipates that the first graduates will be awarded their NA degrees in December 2023.

Smith said this reflects a program plan that the university refers to as a “2 + 2 model,” one that facilitates students transferring to UNSW Canberra having undertaken the first two years of an accredited Mechanical (or Aeronautical) Engineering four-year degree program at another Australian tertiary institution. Exact course credits for transferees will be managed on a case-by-case basis.

Smith said that this is how the program ran at UNSW Sydney for nearly 60 years and it aligns with the plans that the Australian Maritime College (AMC) also executes.

A complementary paper providing a broader historical and situational perspective for the UNSW Canberra initiative was recently published in the Australian Naval Architect. From this paper, one key point is the institutional connection with the previously successful and highly respected UNSW Sydney program (Its closure in 2017 was primarily for budgetary reasons.).

A second key point is to acknowledge the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) request for, and sponsorship of, the NA developments at UNSW Canberra in support of the current Defence White Paper, the continuous naval shipbuilding plan, and the requisite foundational skills development in the discipline. ADFA, and therefore also UNSW Canberra, exist to provide university education for both military and civilian students in a military environment.

Smith said a third key point is the fostering of a collaborative relationship with AMC as the other Australasian institution, established in the 1980’s, delivering NA graduates to the sector.

A distinction of the UNSW Canberra NA program content is that it is “grey-ship” focused. Smith said the laws of physics and the impact of the environment do not differentiate between military maritime vessels or those serving a commercial or recreational purpose. However, the examples discussed in the university’s classrooms will lean towards military applications. Students will then grow in their general awareness and appreciation of all ship types and the challenges a naval architect faces in delivering all capabilities.

The grey-ship focus is also underpinned by the sponsorship of the RAN as a customer for the program at ADFA in a unique military environment within the Australasian Higher Education sector. It is also supported explicitly through the office of Head Naval Engineering (HNE).

While much is being spoken of in relation to the RAN’s acquisition of a nuclear-powered submarine, the program will generally target and emphasise surface ships and the associated threshold concepts involved. Many of these can in due course be applied to submarines but this extension in detail is likely to be the scope of future postgraduate offerings and activities.

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