Issues: Collins Class Submarines
(Source: Australian Department of Defense; issued Jan. 28, 2010)
Part Transcript – Doorstop:
Pacific 2010 and Maritime Congress,
Darling Harbour Sydney, Jan. 28, 2010

JOURNALIST: Minister Faulkner, in regards to submarines, you talked today about the problems that you've had with the submarines, is it the case that there's currently only one submarine operational?

SENATOR FAULKNER: Let me go through what I understand the situation to be in relation to Australia's Collins class submarines. In South Australia there are three submarines 'Rankin', 'Sheean', and 'Dechaineux'. In Western Australia there are the other three submarines in the fleet 'Collins', 'Farncomb' and 'Waller'.

As you'd be aware, as a result of the Chief of Navy's announcement on Monday of this week Farncomb has now been is now undertaking unscheduled maintenance as a result of the generator failure that has been made public. I've been advised by Chief of Navy that 'Collins' and 'Waller' are available for sea.

You might also be aware, of course, that I think sometime in March 'Dechaineux' will come through its full cycle maintenance and should be available for sea trials at about that time. You'd also, of course, be aware that operational issues, operational deployment is something that Government's necessarily discreet about. That's something that's been consistent for a long period of time and that sort of information is classified.

But I hope that gives you the full picture in relation to submarine availability and in my speech today to the conference I certainly tried to outline some of the broader issues that we face in relation to the submarine availability.

JOURNALIST: How long is it going to take to fix those problems that you outlined in regards to manufacturing and design and approaching overseas?

SENATOR FAULKNER: Look, at this stage I'm unwilling to speculate on that. What I can say to you is that HMAS 'Farncomb' is in unscheduled maintenance. That's, as you know, due to the electrical failure in one of 'Farncomb's generators. I can also say to you that it's now been established that this failure was due to a manufacturing fault. I also will think it's appropriate that I emphasise with you that Navy, the Defence Material Organisation and of course ASC need to work closely together to resolve this issue and I can assure you that that is occurring. I can only say to you in terms of timing, which you asked me about, and I can't speculate on this, I can only say and be very frank with you that HMAS 'Farncomb' will remain alongside until the situation is resolved.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you said in your speech that some of the Navy's personnel problems in the submarine fleet have been addressed, that there's been some good progress on that front. It must be pretty frustrating then that the boats that take those people to sea aren't as available as they should be?

SENATOR FAULKNER: I've been frank about the fact that there are frustrations and there have been now frustrations for some time but ministers have to do a little more than just be frustrated about these sorts of issues. We've got to work through and sort them out. I mean that frustration's not just limited to me as Defence Minister. I think you've seen Chief of Navy on Monday express his own disappointment at the situation that we face. The critical issue here is to ensure that we get the relevant people, the Navy, of course, DMO, ASC, together and we work through these issues as a matter of the highest priority.

JOURNALIST: Are these issues affecting your confidence in ASC and whether they can deliver on the submarines from the white paper?

SENATOR FAULKNER: Look, no, it certainly doesn't affect my confidence in the ASC. Look, we've got a situation here of an electrical failure of one of the main generators of one of our submarines. That's a serious issue. I don't underplay it. The challenge is to fix it and get on with it and ensure that our submarine fleet is able to operate at an appropriate level as soon as that can be achieved.

OURNALIST: Is there the same problem in all the submarines?

SENATOR FAULKNER: At this stage I don't know the answer to that question. Obviously it's a question that, as you'd appreciate, that I've asked. What I have said, and let me repeat it to you, is that the generator failure in HMAS 'Farncomb' is as a result of a manufacturing fault. As a result of that, it is a matter of genuine concern in relation to our submarine fleet as a whole and further advice is being prepared in relation to that.

JOURNALIST: How much would it cost if you had to replace it?

SENATOR FAULKNER: Look, I'm always reluctant to give rough answers in relation to costs as probably all of you appreciate. There will be costs, they will be substantial but it is important work that must be done so thanks very much.

JOURNALIST: The ASPI report suggested that the new submarines could cost as much as $34 billion. Given the problems continuing with the Collins, is there any possibility the Government might switch from the plan to build new submarines to taking an off the shelf option?

SENATOR FAULKNER: Look, I think the critical point here, Brendan, is what I mentioned in my speech today. All the experiences of the Collins class submarine need to be lessons that the Government learns and of course Navy learns in relation to the future submarine. That is the critical issue and I tried to stress that today in my speech to this conference. I am going to ensure that we do learn these lessons as we approach the critically important but of course very complex work of development of the future submarine.


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