Introduction

Why we need to be concerned:

The advertisement that was originally placed in “The Australian” on Tuesday September 13 cost a lot of money. The expenditure was deemed worthwhile because the initiators of the ad were very concerned at the decision by the Australian government to award a massive contract with very little details released to the public.

Even superficial analysis of the move by the government and the department of defence (who were behind the decision) reveals quite a number of questions. Since the press release announcement on April 26 this year, we know of no further clarification of the government decision.

In the absence of further clarification, we can only answer some of our questions with reasonable speculation. Some issues:

  • Why would the government announce the winner of the bidding process to not even have a serious prototype diesel submarine to show us when the two other bidders have existing, competitive submarines which basically conform to our requirements?
  • Do they really think that DCNS (the French submarine builder) can make a diesel version of a nuclear submarine when this has never been done before? How long will this take?
  • Do they really think that they can make this submarine in Adelaide in any reasonable time, with any realistic quality outcome, at anything like a competitive price?
  • How do we defend ourselves while all this is going on?
  • It has been widely stated that the cost of the submarines is $50 billion and it will create 2800 jobs. Surely we would be able to subsidise the car manufacturing industry for far, far less and create tens of thousands of jobs.
  • Surely whatever workforce that still exists from the manufacture of the Collins class submarines would have dissipated by now so we are not trying to “save” jobs like in the car industry.
  • Is there any evidence that the new ultra-quiet propulsion system will work with the lower power of a diesel-electric power plant?

 

  • Isn’t there a probability that every future hostile submarine will be nuclear, not diesel?
  • Why $50 billion for 12 diesel submarines? That’s over $4 billion each for a diesel! The Americans can make Virginia class nuclear submarines for less than US$2.7 billion each (Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia-class_submarine ).

Speculation:

Here is the big one!

We believe that the decision to choose DCNS (a very good nuclear submarine manufacturer) to build our future submarines has nothing to do with diesel submarines. The diesel decision is so absurd and full of holes that we speculate that the defence department wants to get nuclear submarines for their next fleet through the proverbial back door. It just may be that our defence minister and the government have been hoodwinked.

If this fiasco is allowed to continue, we speculate that a dribble of information will come out over the next few years along the following lines:

  • “Designs for diesel version of nuclear submarine behind schedule due to technical problems” (variations of this for two to five years)
  • “Severe difficulties in construction of diesel submarine prototype” (another few years of this sort of stuff)
  • “Back to the drawing board for diesel submarine designs” (more delays)

 

The Australian government has coughed up plenty by this stage as we have signed a one-sided contract with no “out” clause.

  • “Decision needed to abandon diesel option”
  • “Government announces decision to purchase nuclear submarines due to the absence of options. Accepts a standard DCNS product in the interests of expediency”

We actually hope we are wrong on this. We would be far happier if the defence department and government “came clean” on this and chose a nuclear option immediately. The unique size of the Australian territorial waters makes a nuclear submarine a very sensible choice.

Of course, the cowardly government will shrink back from the uproar from the luddite left and the greens. This should not even BE a political debate. We are talking about our fundamental security here. The propulsion system for the ideal defensive solution for our future should not even be part of the debate.

Why make it here?

Another matter to consider is the prospect of manufacturing the submarines in Adelaide. Firstly, the replacement of the Collins class submarine is going to take so much time, discussing the prospect of using Adelaide to make the submarines is moot. The construction of the Collins class submarines was such a disaster that giving Adelaide the opportunity of making an even more sophisticated craft is absolutely absurd.

No-one in politics will say this of course. The last minister for defence who criticised Adelaide’s submarine manufacturing capability was sacked on the spot.

If we do decide to choose the excellent French nuclear submarine, making them in Adelaide would be out of the question. Anti-nuclear lunatics will try to sabotage them.

Where do we go to next?

Perhaps there is an alternative explanation for the bizarre decision by the government on April 26th. Perhaps the defence department will obfuscate and use “national security” as an excuse to stonewall on this.

We do, however, encourage rigorous public debate on this.

Gary Johnston