Review raises submarine construction policy concerns
The Australian Strategy Policy Institute has released its review of Australia's submarine construction policy, finding that very little progress had been made since the publishing of the Defence White Paper in 2009, which outlined the construction of twelve new, non-nuclear long range submarines 'built to perform a range of demanding tasks'.
The review also found that because no additional funding from the previous two federal budgets had been allocated for the submarine initiative, only low level funding from Defence's existing funding had been made available for the project.
Another cause for concern raised in the paper was the fifteen years the boats would take between tender and commission, which would mean the submarine fleet would not be operational before the deadline for the retirement of Australia's existing Collins class submarine fleet. The paper speculates that only the first six of the new class of submarines would be available between 2025 and 2030, the due time for the Collins ships to be decommissioned.
Defence analyst Mark Thompson, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, says the existing issues with the current generation of Collins class submarines have caused delays in the planning and delivery of the new class. "The longer the project gets delayed the narrower your options become. We are struggling to make our existing submarines work and that, I think, has probably diverted a bit of attention from the next generation of submarines." Mr Thompson said.
The report found that in order to make up for the shortfall in submarine availability in the transitional period, the life of the Collins class may have to be extended in order to avoid the problems associated with the previous Oberon class to Collins class transitional timeline. But the report found that such a move would have serious and costly drawbacks in attempting to maintain the already flawed drive train and diesel engines. The report continued that even a well repaired and retrofitted Collins class submarine 'would still lack many of the capabilities required at the ‘top-end’ of submarine operations—most notably air independent propulsion—to which the replacement submarine specification aspires'
The paper finds that constructing a totally new generation of submarines is not the sole solution to Australia's future submarine requirements. Stating that there are four possible decisions to be made;
• an off-the-shelf submarine (probably from a European design house)
• build more Collins with a degree of modernisation but no large-scale changes
• a ‘Collins plus’ that draws on and extends the existing submarine design
• a totally new bespoke design.
In conclusion the report finds 'Waiting for the Collins availability and nagging legacy design problems to be fixed before investing in the future fleet may seem prudent, but a transition that is botched by even a few years could result in a substantial capability gap opening up some time in the next decade—at a time when strategic competition in the Asia–Pacific region has the potential to ramp up.'
The report can be found at http://www.aspi.org.au/