Giving subs a full make-over
With a life span of approximately 30 years, DCNS 2000 type Scorpène® submarines require periodical technical maintenance. Basic maintenance programmes are carried out approximately every 3 years, however more comprehensive and intrusive technical maintenance programmes, also called ‘refits’, are carried out every 10 years. Such a programme implies dismantling the submarine to inspect, assess, repair and update the vessel from top to bottom.
Having purchased two 2000 type Scorpène® submarines from DCNS in 2009, the Royal Malaysian Navy, with the Boustead DCNS Naval Corporation (BDNC), tendered out the implementation of a locally conducted training programme aimed at training Malaysian technicians to ensure the back-to-back ‘refitting’ of both the Tunku Abdul Rahman and the Tun Razak. Though DCNS is used to providing technical assistance for the on-going maintenance of these two vessels, the refitting process requires a much more elaborate and specifically trained workforce.
Beyond establishing a detailed training programme specifically designed to cover all aspects related to the refitting of overseas vessels, DCNS’ additional challenge was to train a team of 90 Malaysian technicians, most of whom had little to no naval experience, to become operational for the refitting process. Indeed, such a maintenance programme requires an additional 90 technicians, beyond the 40-fulltime technicians, to ensure satisfactory levels of maintenance.
With its extensive knowledge in the field of maintenance and refitting, DCNS put together a comprehensive training proposal carefully detailing 170 training modules to be delivered locally. With 95% of the training staff originating from the DCNS ranks, these specialised experts had two specific jobs: firstly, become on-the-job trainers to adequately train the Malaysian technicians, and secondly, supervise the maintenance works throughout the refitting process. This dual-purpose assignment was designed to ensure project continuity from A to Z.
The training process lasted approximately 7 months spanning from March through to October 2015, included 192 days of effective training, and was structured into three main categories. The first category was theoretical training and covered the fundamental principles and basic knowledge of submarines–further classroom training was conducted for the specific trades such as electricity/electronics, platform mechanics and hull works. The remaining two thirds of the training comprised on-site training that included hands-on modules directly related to the technicians’ upcoming tasks, as well as workshop training sessions designed to teach the trainees how to dismantle and reassemble specific sets of equipment.
In parallel to establishing a carefully designed training programme, and for the first time ever, DCNS implemented an in-depth individual assessment procedure, close to what pupils have at school! With theoretical tests at the end of each module, every individual had his own training book with grades and appraisals. Furthermore, hands-on modules were assessed through observations of behaviour, and were evaluated on the basis of carefully predefined criteria.
DCNS’ appraisal method aimed at clearly identifying the individuals’ knowledge, their know-how but also their soft-skills–their ‘know-how-to-be’ so to speak. At the final training committee, DCNS was clearly able to differentiate between the autonomous trainees, those who needed supervising and those who were simply not fit for the job. Trainee assessments were backed-up with personal interviews which not only allowed the trainers to assess the individuals, but also allowed them to personally get to know their teams in what is after all a very human venture.
DCNS designed the entire training programme from scratch while the BDNC joint venture, including a number of DCNS expatriates, implemented and conducted the training sessions. The team was able to establish a fair assessment of the programme and the trainees themselves. Starting with 106 trainees, BDNC successfully retained the 85 most proficient individuals.
Setting the pace
As far as maintenance goes, DCNS had never designed and delivered such a comprehensive refitting training programme overseas. It was a first, not only in the thoroughness of the task at hand but also in terms of the pedagogical follow-up involved with each and every individual.
The success of the programme was due, in part, to the attention to detail that prevailed throughout the training, but was also due to the positive synergy that developed between the back office in France, the front office onsite and the DCNS experts conducting the training at BDNC. Despite the cultural and language barriers present on such a project, a very human approach transpired between trainer and trainee, thus propelling what could have been a monotonous project into a truly human experience!
Throughout this enriching project, the DCNS group successfully exported its know-how and expertise to strengthen the Royal Malaysian Navy’s capabilities in terms of becoming an ever-more self-sufficient sovereignty. One step at a time, DCNS improves and enhances a nation’s ability to strive towards a safer tomorrow.