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Some comfort for SA's submarine future

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South Australia’s submarine industry has received a big tick at a major international conference on the future of the Australian subs strategy.

It comes a day after the fourth and final review into the Collins Class submarine sustainment program confirmed that submarine maintenance and availability has significantly improved.

The report, by sub expert John Coles, found that two, and frequently three, submarines are now available for deployment at any one time.

“In the recent past, we were often reliant on a single boat,” the report said.

The South Australian Government was also reassured by Defence Minister David Johnston’s endorsement of the South Australian shipyards at a “Future Submarine” conference in Canberra today.

The minister addressed speculation about reductions in the number of submarines to be built.

He re-committed the Federal Government to a policy that would “ensure that work in Australia on the replacement of the current submarine fleet will be centred around the South Australian shipyards”.

“The build and sustainment of the Collins has been an enormous challenge for Australia and, despite its well documented problems, the achievements of this program and class often get forgotten,”  Johnston said.

“We built and delivered six submarines over a construction period from 1990 to 2003.

“This program was marked by world-class performance in terms of build quality, cost, and schedule and demonstrated that we could manage two major maritime construction  programs in Australia concurrently and deliver quality vessels.

“As I have said on other occasions, and as is clear from our election commitment, the Coalition government intends that the ADF be equipped and sustained by Australian services and equipment wherever possible.

“We have also committed to ensure that work in Australia on the replacement of the current submarine fleet will be centred around the South Australian shipyards.

“As a Government we want to give Australian industry every chance of success. ”

Johnston said, however, the commitment wasn’t an open cheque and would be driven by defence needs, not industry needs.

“We see military shipbuilding as a strategically important industry and certainly it is desirable that the new submarine would be built in Australia but it is not a blank cheque.

“I have agreed that Defence actively and formally engaging key industry sectors to ensure we have the best information available on these and related issues. ”

On the question of maintenance of the Collins, the minister suggested the timeline would extend beyond the previous date of 2013.

“We need to maintain the Collins as regionally capable submarine – that is operationally effective –  probably beyond its original design life and secondly we need to introduce our future submarine into our order of battle by early to mid 2030s at the latest.

“The Collins class was originally designed for a life of about 28 years, although we have now moved to a 30 year life.

“So this means that HMAS Farncomb, which was commissioned in 1998, might be expected to remain in service till about 2027.

“However, we are planning to extend the Collins Class submarine for a further five or six years through another full cycle docking.

“This would take Farncomb out to about 2033.”

Addressing speculation of a reduction in the number of future subs, the minister repeated his commitment to capability.

“There has been a lot of speculation about whether we need 12 boats,” he said.

“Let me make clear that my primary focus is not on numbers but on the capability and availability of boats required to meet the tasks set by Government.

“As part of the White Paper process we will re-examine the strategic objectives of the future submarine program including the number of submarines required at sea and therefore the total number of submarines.”

Johnston said the finalisation of the Federal Government’s submarine strategy would be worked through over the remainder of this year.

“I propose to take to Government this year, in support of the White Paper, a plan that balances up cost, capability and risk.

“I am closely engaged in this project and the resolutions I take to my colleagues will of necessity provide assurance that there will be no capability gap, and that we will deliver a regionally superior and affordable conventional submarine capability sustainable in Australia over the foreseeable future.”

He concluded his keynote speech with further endorsement of the ASC’s recent improvement   in maintenance performance.

“But what has been achieved to date is remarkable, delivering a level of performance that would not have been viewed as possible two years ago.

“It has been most gratifying to see the astonishing turnaround of a seriously failing project to one that should, within just two years, achieve or better International Benchmark Performance.

“In concluding, I would say that I am more optimistic today about our submarine fleet than I was seven months ago.”

Johnston’s speech was welcomed by South Australia’s Defence Industry Minister Jack Snelling.

“I’m reassured,” Snelling told InDaily today.

“I’m pleased that he reaffirmed the Prime Minister’s commitment to defence industry in South Australia.

“Separeately, the Coles Report is a vindication of what the ASC’s done; it’s a great report on what the capacity and skill of the shipbuilding industry in South Australia.

“The ASC’s performance improvement shows what can be done if you have certainty and continuity.”This will guarantee jobs in SA in the future.”

ASC Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Ludlam, who will address the conference tomorrow, said last night the Coles report was a big tick for the workforce at the Osborne facility.

“Our workforce has worked extremely hard and tested the limits of what can be achieved in such a short period,” Ludlam said.

“It has required a considerable amount of lateral thinking and challenging the status quo.

“The review shows we are on the right track to achieve and even exceed the International Benchmark by 2017. This would mean at least three of the six submarines will be materially available for sea at all times, and two would be capable of deployment.

“The review also highlights that we are already achieving usually two and frequently three submarines available on a given day.”

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) “Submarine Choice” conference will also hear from the Chief of the Royal Australian Navy Vice Admiral Ray Griggs,  the Commander of the US Pacific Fleet Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr and former US Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter.

ASPI’s defence economics senior analyst said three presumptions underlay current planning for Australia’s future submarine capability.

“First, the Collins class must be replaced when it reaches its life-of-type.

“Second, the replacement boats must be built in South Australia.

“Third, the new boats must have conventional (ie non-nuclear) propulsion.

“ASPI’s ‘Submarine Choice’ conference will explore Australia’s future submarine in line with these stipulations.

“To do otherwise would cause confusion and dismay among the assembled insiders, such is the abiding belief in the need for a conventionally-powered, locally-built replacement for the Collins.”

 

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