Aussie subs trapped in political mire

Submarine 2It has been interesting…and distressing…to observe Australia’s quest to obtain submarines to replace its Collins-class boats under Project Sea 1000.

Defence procurements can be convoluted at the best of times, to be sure, but Australian wrangling over this single issue has taken political bickering to ‘new depths’, to use a submariner’s vocabulary.

There are many factors at play. Australian state governments that do not want to lose jobs, and others that want to gain them. There is also a state-owned shipbuilder, ASC, which by all accounts is extremely inefficient.

Add to this prime ministerial pats on the back for special Japanese ‘buddies’, and intense international rivalry for what will be a very lucrative contract, and the whole process has become a shambles.

The three contenders are now Thyssen Krupp, DCNS/Thales and the Japanese makers of the Soryu-class submarine. I still cannot explain how Saab got dropped along the way.

Then there is US-manufactured equipment that the Australian government wants to add into the submarines, vessels that will be larger and more capable than anything the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has ever operated.

Submarine 1

Lay over this political wranglings that have seen political parties and personalities swap roles as though they were playing musical chairs, and a whole succession of revolving defence ministers. The newest is Marise Payne, the country’s first female defence minister.

As The Age newspaper put it, ‘She inherits a portfolio weakened by more than a decade of policy muddle, political opportunism, pointless reform programmes and poor leadership.’

Within a few weeks we will view the results of a rushed ‘competitive evaluation process’ (whatever that is) for the subs launched in February. But this process is unlikely to provide much clarity given the political maneuvering and completely botched nature of this requirement right from the beginning. Australia already has a poor record in some of its naval procurement, with Kaman Super Seasprite helicopters and over-budget Air Warfare Destroyers springing to mind.

Then we are still waiting for the Defence White Paper, that hallowed document that will make everything clear and chart a laser-like course through all the troubled waters. Originally due by mid-October, will it now be heavily reworked seeing that a new bum is warming the prime ministerial chair?

There is already speculation the original 12-boat requirement of 2009 (it seems such a long time ago) will be reduced to eight.

Actually, sorry to say, I see little hope for the RAN and its ever-patient submariners. Just how can the new defence minister prevent a torpedoed Sea 1000 project Down Under from going under?  Submarine 3

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