March 18, 2014

Some Doubt Whether Australia Will Build 12 Future Submarines

Australia's Defence Minister David Johnston - prepared to speak out on submarines.

Australia's Defence Minister David Johnston is one of the principal decision makers on current and future Australian submarine issues. Like all Defence Minister's he has his own public relations style.

On February 27, 2014 Rob Taylor and Patrick Barta of the Wall Street Journal reported some comments from Minister Johnston that may prove highly significant for future tenderers for Australia's future submarine program (SEA 1000). I've bolded what I see as the most significant comments. As will be seen the issue of how many future submarines Australia will build has not yet been finalized. see :

"Australia Australia Reviews Plan to Double Submarine Fleet"
Decision to Revisit $32 Billion Purchase Comes as Asian Neighbors Bulk Up Military Muscle

CANBERRA, Australia—Australia will review plans to double its fleet of submarines, with the new conservative government under pressure to rein in its budget even as Asian neighbors dramatically ramp up military spending.
Defense Minister David Johnston said he was unconvinced that Australia needed as many as 12 new conventional submarines currently foreseen by military planners. It comes as regional neighbors, led by China, build up their naval and air arsenals amid disputes over territorial waters, especially in North Asia.
At a cost of up to 36 billion Australian dollars (US$32.28 billion), doubling the submarine fleet would be the country's largest single military purchase.
"It's a mystery to me [where that number of 12 future submarines came from]," said Mr. Johnston, who has called for a review of military-equipment spending as part of a year long strategic planning process launched by the conservatives, who swept to power in September elections on a promise of fiscal restraint."
[Pete's comment: The first major explanation (I know of) as to how 12 future submarines are arrived at is in Australia's 2009 Defence White Paper  Defending Australia in the Asia Paciic Century: Force 2030  section 8.40, page 64: "In the case of the submarine force,the Government takes the view that our future strategic circumstances necessitate a substantially expanded submarine fleet of 12 boats in order to sustain a force at sea large enough in a crisis or conflict to be able to defend our approaches (including at considerable distance from Australia, if necessary), protect and support other ADF assets, and undertake certain strategic missions where the stealth and other operating characteristics of highly-capable advanced submarines would be crucial. Moreover, a larger submarine force would significantly increase the military planning challenges faced by any adversaries, and increase the size and capabilities of the force they would have to be prepared to commit to attack us directly, or coerce, intimidate or otherwise employ military power against us."  see ]

"That is a technical issue that the current circumstances will dictate and I want [the] navy to tell me what they foresee is the way forward. It might be more than 12, it might be less. I'm not sure," he said in an interview.
Australia's former Labor government in 2009 released a defense planning paper that called for a dozen large, conventionally powered submarines to replace the country's existing six-boat fleet of Collins class submarines.
Although much larger than submarines operated by regional neighbors, [Japan's 4,000 ton Soryus are larger!] the Collins class submarines have been plagued by technical problems. On Thursday, a fire erupted on the submarine HMAS Waller off the West Australian coast, Australia's Defense Department said. There were no casualties. [see ]
A new fleet of larger, more powerful and longer-range submarines would counter a growing undersea presence in Asia. Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia are fielding new submarines to counter threats to some of the world's most important energy-trade routes, as well as to hedge against Chinese ambitions.
China in January sent a surface warship fleet—possibly backed by a submarine—into waters between Indonesia and Australia, demonstrating Beijing's naval reach. The move prompted some alarm in Canberra, which sent a maritime patrol aircraft to keep watch.
Southeast Asian nations typically operate submarines of about 2,000 submerged tons, while Australia envisages boats of 4,000 tons or more, possibly equipped with submarine-launched cruise missiles for land attack and capable of deploying special-forces soldiers.
Australia's submarine-replacement program, no matter how ambitious it turned out to be, wouldn't add to regional rivalries, with the close U.S. ally having long fielded a small but highly capable military that was well respected regionally, Mr. Johnston said.
"For many, many years we have owned and operated the world's largest conventionally powered submarine, so the neighborhood is well used to us having a large and unique diesel-electric submarine," he said.
Australia already has embarked on an expensive buildup of military equipment, including two 27,000-ton [Canberra Class] amphibious assault ships, new attack and transport helicopters, [Hobart Class] guided-missile destroyers, tanks and Super Hornet strike and electronic attack aircraft.
Australia has a defense budget of some A$26 billion in the fiscal year to June, or 1.6% of gross domestic product. The government plans in the next few years to buy up to 100 F-35 Lightning joint strike fighters to provide radar-evading air power, at a cost of up to A$16 billion.
But the military has come under pressure to reduce costs as the world's 12th-largest economy retreats from a mining boom, driving up joblessness and eating into government revenues. The government in December forecast budget deficits totaling A$123 billion over the next four fiscal years to June 2017, and said it would cut billions from spending.
But earlier this week the country, which two years ago agreed to rotate thousands of U.S. Marines and their aircraft through Australia's north, said it would buy A$4 billion of new Boeing Co. BA +1.88% -built P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft capable of ranging well into Asia. Those aircraft are likely to be joined later this year by a A$2.9 billion fleet of seven long-range MQ-4C Triton drones.
Mr. Johnston said he was open to the idea of Australia's far-flung Cocos islands, in the Indian Ocean southwest of Indonesia, being developed as a base for U.S. or Australian Tritons. But he said there was no proposal currently to upgrade the islands' dilapidated airstrip to expand maritime reach, as Chinese vessels increasingly patrol further from home.
China's growing assertiveness in the East China Sea and elsewhere was to be expected of any country with growing energy needs, Mr. Johnston said, including a demand for Australian oil and gas resources. China is Australia's largest trading partner.
"They are hostage to the importation of food and energy. I think they would be dilatory were they not to want to protect those sea lanes," he said. "I'm not reactive to these things that are happening in the South China Sea." ENDS

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