Robert Bond Director Citizens for Defence
CITIZENS FOR DEFENCE
Collins Class subs a shipwreck
Our Collins class submarines have never been competitive or reliable with less than 20% availability over the last 12 years. (Challenge to keep Collins Class subs competitive, Brendan Nicholson, 10/10).
The subs have depth restrictions, speed restrictions, periscopes that vibrate and leak water, endless battery, generator and engine problems, and no capacity to provide the firepower and endurance demanded to adequately defend our 36,000kilometre coastline.
Yet the Collins subs are by far the most expensive submarines to maintain in the world with costs running at over $150 million per annum per sub despite being unavailable for combat most of the time. By contrast, a US nuclear Ohio class submarine three times the size of the Collins class costs $50 million to operate per year with excellent availability.
Five years after it became obvious to the world the Collins submarines were a military write off our government is assembling “a team of international and local engineers and naval architects” to begin planning for the 12 new future subs.
The head of the Defence Department’s submarine program, David Gould says it still has not been decided whether the new subs will be Collins clones or a new design.
The government still has to figure out what went wrong with the Collins subs according to the retiring head of Defence’s new submarine project, Rowan Moffitt. He said the navy is now cutting the pressure hulls of the subs to remove the diesel motors for major repairs. This will leave the submarines with permanently weakened hulls even if they go through extensive recertification processes.
This cacophony of failures has bedevilled the Collins class since they were commissioned. For instance on the 21 May 2009 HMAS Waller tied up at the Henderson shipyard south of Perth for urgent battery repairs, the only seaworthy sub is HMAS Farncomb. The other four boats are either out of active service (HMAS Collins) or out of the water for major maintenance known as full cycle docking (HMAS Sheehan, Rankin and Dechaineux). This total lack of availability has persisted through to the present day with one sub available most of the time and sometimes two subs fit to sail.
For example, The sub that engages in the yearly multinational exercises off Hawaii usually embarrasses this nation by having to limp to harbour to have hose repairs or have major generator malfunctions such as the January 2010 issue with HMAS Farncomb involving failures in 1 of the submarine’s 3 French Jeumont-Schneider, 1,400 kW/ 440-volt DC generators, and this has served in many respects as the final straw.
These submarines are economically unrepairable with two years in dry-dock for maintenance for every three years of use.
Is it feasible to scrap one or two Collins-class submarines for spare parts and refurbish the remaining 4-5 subs to a level where they could reliably accomplish short missions along the Australian coastline?
Our politicians have not even had a realistic trial of 5 Collins subs against a Virginia class nuclear powered submarine to access their strengths and weaknesses. They are spending two full years funding of the defence budget without even evaluating a nuclear submarine.
Brazil is building a nuclear submarine which includes the reactor with help from the French. The British have the new Astute-Class nuclear submarine, and the US ambassador to Australia has said that the US would supply Virginia subs to Australia to improve our defence forces.
Surely our paralysed politicians could start to consider the defence of this nation by approaching these nations for a joint venture arrangement where we can acquire modern submarines.
It seems the Coalition is happy to continue to blunder on down the path the Labor party has led us for the last 6 years resulting in a nation with no effective submarine defences for the next 50 years.