JULY 28, 2014 — It's not a happy time to be a naval shipbuilder in Australia. The country's three-ship Air Warfare Destroyer project is in such a sorry state that the Australian shipbuilders involved were told back in June that if they can't turn things around there will likely be no future surface warships built in Australia. Now it seems possible that there may be no submarine construction there, either.
Australia's six Collins Class submarines, built between 1990 and 2003 by state-owned Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC), are set to be replaced from 2025 onwards. The Collins replacement project has been identified as the most expensive ever undertaken by the Australian Defence Force. In December 2010 the government forecast the program would cost A$10 billion. A paper recently published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has said the price could be "anywhere between A$20 billion and A$40 billion."
Until recently there has been bipartisan support for building the Collins replacement boat in Australia at ASC. Now, though a discussion paper just published by the Australian Department of Defence, Defence Issues Paper 2014, is seen as opening the door wide open to building the submarines, and other Australian naval vessels, overseas.
Here's what it says:
Currently one of the biggest defense industry issues is the future of naval shipbuilding in Australia. While successive Australian governments have shown a willingness to support the shipbuilding and repair sector, industry performance has been patchy, with some successful projects and some that have fallen short of international benchmarks. In its announcements about the Navy's resupply vessels, the Pacific Patrol Boats and the Future Frigate program, the Government flagged that it will need to see productivity in the sector improved to internationally competitive levels before it will commit to further major construction projects in Australia. This position is likely to remain the benchmark for other defense industry policy decisions.
The Government wants to see shipbuilding continue in Australia, but not at any cost. Every additional dollar used to support an inefficient defense industry takes away equipment from our sailors, soldiers and airmen and airwomen. The opportunity cost needs to be considered; what other military capability might be foregone if monies are committed to industries that do not meet international benchmarks? There is significant debate emerging about the future submarine and whether it should be built in Australia. This debate must consider the cost, risk and schedule as well as the benefits of the different options. Where domestic industrial capability is scarce; where ought it be directed? To what priority and to which ADF needs?