Speech by Australian Minister for Defence Senator David Johnston
ASPI Submarine Conference
Canberra, ACT, April 9, 2014
It is a pleasure to be here today and those of you who know me will appreciate the strong interest I have in submarines. Submarines are a highly potent asymmetric capability of strategic importance to this country. Their importance is unlikely to abate, rather they will grow in significance. They are a critical element in our maritime security planning. I would like to thank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute for providing this opportunity to discuss the importance of the Future Submarine.
The Australian Government is acutely aware of the importance of having a highly capable submarine force, especially given the rapidly changing strategic circumstances of our region.
And importantly – this year as we celebrate the “Centenary of Australian Submarines” – it is a reminder that we have had a need for a strong and enduring submarine capability in the Royal Australian Navy since its inception 100 years ago.
Ensure Australia is able to sustain a superior conventional submarine capability into the foreseeable future
At this point we believe that Submarines will remain relevant for the foreseeable future – although we cannot rule out the possibility of some disruptive technologies. Consequently, the enterprise not only needs to be capable of introducing the new submarine, it must sustain the future submarine capability edge.
From a design perspective, I believe at the very least we need to be capable of two key things. Firstly, we need to have sufficient access and knowledge to exercise sovereign design control over capabilities necessary to maintain a regionally superior conventional submarine capability into the foreseeable future and taking account of our desire for ongoing access to US and/or UK technologies. In other words we must as I have said have proprietorship of intellectual property. Secondly, we need to have sufficient knowledge and expertise to exercise our responsibilities under Workplace Health and Safety Law.
Furthermore, we need to be capable of materially maintaining our submarines into the foreseeable future, including undertaking full cycle dockings.
In parallel with this we need to ensure that we maintain appropriate investment in science and technology as we continue to push the boundaries of our own knowledge of submarine operations.
Avoiding a Submarine Capability Gap
To avoid a gap we really need two things to happen. Firstly, we need to maintain the Collins as regionally capable submarine – that is operationally effective – probably beyond its original design life and secondly we need to introduce our future submarine into our order of battle by early to mid 2030s at the latest. At this stage we are not aware of any specific issue that might prevent the life of the Collins being extended but I think we would also be wise to retain some healthy degree of caution until this is confirmed by more detailed work.
The Collins class was originally designed for a life of about 28 years, although we have now moved to a 30 year life. So this means that HMAS Farncomb, which was commissioned in 1998, might be expected to remain in service till about 2027. However, we are planning to extend the Collins Class submarine for a further 5 or 6 years through another full cycle docking. This would take Farncomb out to about 2033. This will mean Farncomb, and the rest of the Collins class submarine will be 10 years older than the Oberon class when they retired and is the equivalent of operating the AE1 out to the end of World War Two.
I am led to understand that if we were to get our own design developed by one of the major international design houses it would take at least 8 years from selection of the design concept to the cutting of steel. Noting it is now 2014, this means we are already pretty much against the wall – on the critical path. The Government needs to understand how long we should expect such the Design to Build process to take? What alternatives are there to accelerate such a process? Are there other ways to introduce the future submarine that allow the evolution of our aspiration without a gap, and without undue risk?
The previous government did develop the Integrated Project Team with the intention that it be able to advise Government as an ‘informed customer’ of the way forward for the Future Submarine Project.
I still do not know what the potential costs of a new design submarine or an evolved Collins submarine might be. Furthermore, I am advised that the former Government removed millions from the front of the Submarine program and it is unclear how they proposed to deliver this program.
There has been a lot of speculation about whether we need 12 boats. Let me make clear that my primary focus is not on numbers but on the capability and availability of boats required to meet the tasks set by Government. As part of the White Paper process we will re-examine the strategic objectives of the future submarine program including the number of submarines required at sea and therefore the total number of submarines.
So where does that lead us?
I propose to take to Government this year, in support of the White Paper, a plan that balances up cost, capability and risk. I am closely engaged in this project and the resolutions I take to my colleagues will of necessity provide assurance that there will be no capability gap, and that we will deliver a regionally superior and affordable conventional submarine capability sustainable in Australia over the foreseeable future. The full details of this will be outlined in concert with the White Paper. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full speech, on the Australian DoD website.