There are no shipwrights in the Australian Cabinet, but what knowledge the ministers lack in the process of cutting and welding steel is more than made up for by the legal, financial and political nous assembled around the table.
Much massaging, slicing and dicing has gone into the calibrated decision to give the Navy its $4 billion fleet of 12 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) — first from one production line in Adelaide, then two years later transferred 3,000 kilometres west to Perth.
Engineering does not appear to have been a driving force in the decision-making, but South Australian job-retention and West Australian lobbying counted for plenty.
The presence of an Adelaide-based Defence Industry Minister and Perth-based finance and foreign ministers in Cabinet meant keen political eyes were always trained on selection of the design and build teams.
In going for the German-designed Lurssen ship, the Navy has got the boat it wanted.
In going for an Adelaide build for the first two copies, the Government shipyard ASC has got the work it wanted for two critical years between 2018-2020, when the Osborne site gets cracking on the fleet of nine Future Frigates.
In choosing to build the remaining 10 copies of the Lurssen ship in Henderson, the west coast gets a solid long-term investment in naval shipbuilding capacity.
After that, the decision is confusing, potentially costly and completely contrary to the arguments Defence has been running in its preparation for the next, much larger fleet of Frigates — valued at $35 billion.
From today's announcement, the OPV project will involve a web of forced "marriages" between the German company Lurssen as prime contractor and three builders it has never produced a ship with.
A heavy bet is being made that the Germans will seamlessly work with the Adelaide yard, ASC — famously described as incapable of building a canoe — then leave and start second time around with two new partners in the west, Austal and Civmec.
In Austal's case, it has never worked with Lurssen and never wanted to in the bidding process.
Its chief executive David Singleton has previously argued to a Senate committee that when it comes to the Future Frigate programme, "an Australian shipbuilder or shipbuilders should take overall responsibility for the ship class".
Heavy ballast to carry
Rather than forcing location-specific partnerships between the Germans and local shipbuilders, the Defence Department itself has opted for a one-stop-shop approach to the Future Frigates.
Its request for tender documents, read at a Senate Committee hearing, specified that "the successful Tenderer will not be directed to utilise any particular shipbuilding workforce or engage any particular provider of shipbuilding services. In particular, the Commonwealth is not mandating that the successful Tenderer use the workforce of ASC…".
Yet, Defence has gone for the opposite approach for the OPVs — actually forcing Lurssen to link up with ASC in Adelaide, then Austal and then Civmec in the west.
A lack of familiarity, the integration of systems, the full-sharing of secrets and the development of trust between the Germans and the local yards carries with it the risk of cost and time blow-outs Australia can ill-afford on its $90 billion naval ship building enterprise.
At the outset and long before the latest announcement of the OPV selection process, the American defence consultants, Rand Corporation, were called in to benchmark Australia's naval shipbuilding performance against other countries.
They discovered a cost-premium of 20-30 per cent above US and UK prices.
With the 12 OPVs, Australia not only starts from a higher cost base, it's loaded it up with untested partnerships and a transcontinental shift of a shipbuilding production system.
Heavy ballast to carry before a boat gets anywhere near the water.