Nuclear subs are an election issue

Robert Bond   Director   Citizens for Defence


Virginia-class sub under way

                                          Virginia-class sub under way

Nuclear subs are an election issue

bobGeneral Peter Cosgrove is chairman of the South Australian Defence Advisory Board and is strongly in favour of building 100 year old technology submarines in South Australia powered by diesel electric propulsion.

This is a recipe for disaster as the construction of our previous submarine in SA shows. The Collins-class submarine was built between February 1990 and March 2003. It has been a shipwreck ever since with Australia rarely having even 2 submarines capable of even sailing out to sea at the onetime let alone being fit to engage an enemy in battle.

These submarines are economically unrepairable with two years in dry-dock for maintenance for every three years of use. The engines need replacement and this will require the pressure hull to be cut to replace them. This will take years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars as the pressure hull will have to undergo extensive re-certification testing.

At present, the Collins class is costing $105 million a year per submarine but this will quickly balloon out to $150 million per annum when substantial upgrades to the Collins class planned under DCP Project Sea 1439 (conservatively estimated at $30 million per ship per year to 2021) takes effect even though the Collins class availability is close to zero.

By contrast, a nuclear Ohio class submarine three times the size of the Collins class costs $50 million to operate per year with excellent availability.

Collins submarine

Collins submarine

The Collins-class is by far the dearest submarine in the world to maintain and yet it has never provided Australia with any sustained underwater defence capability since its construction.

It seems so out of character that our retired top brass would want our forces to defend our country with 90 year old technology diesel electric submarines that have an underwater range of some 50 nautical miles at 25 knots or 500 nautical miles at 4 knots. These 4000 tonne boats will always be limited in range by fuel restraints and battery storage. They will never outrun surface ships or be able to aggressively attack a modern enemy.

One would have thought a more appropriate submarine for Australia’s defence would be able to travel at 32 knots underwater around the world if necessary without surfacing, outrunning surface ships in the process and being able to dive to 250 metres. This submarine would weigh 7500 tonnes and carry 12 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 38 missiles and torpedoes as well as having 40,000 shaft horse power courtesy of a reliable S9G nuclear reactor.

Australia has to embrace nuclear energy for its own survival. Our small population means we have to have big effective weapons to protect our 36000 kilometres of coastline. Former US Rear Admiral John B Padgett 111 has cited studies indicating that ‘it takes 2.2 to six diesel-electric submarines to obtain the equivalent effectiveness of a single nuclear submarine’.

It is time for the politicians to put up or be exposed for their utter disregard for the security of this country by condemning this nation to rely on 100 yr old diesel electric technology which is only 20% as effective as nuclear technology. The sickening spin of the politicians should be put to the test in the mid Pacific Ocean with five Collins class subs and one Virginia-class sub undergoing a series of exercises to determine the effectiveness of each boat.

This armchair admiral suggests having a big noisy warship travel in an anti submarine random zigzag pattern at 25 knots with the Virginia sub defending the ship and the Collins subs attacking the ship.

The fact is Australia has never had anything like 5 subs available for active duty at the one time in the last decade and this just highlight the pathetic performance of our politicians in the whole sorry defence debacle.Minister of Defence Stephen Smith

This is the only way for our inept politicians to assess the performance of nuclear submarines and diesel electric submarines in realistic battle conditions.

At least then firepower, endurance, and value for money may get a look in to the blinkered minds of politicians.

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