July 7, 2017

Ex-PM Abbott doubts wisdom of Australia's future submarine choice

Below are excerpts from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s June 29, 2017 Speech on Australia's  submarine selection decision http://tonyabbott.com.au/2017/06/address-centre-independent-studies-sydney/:

"When a Russian naval task force appeared to our north at the time of the Brisbane G20, I was told that neither of our two deployed submarines could shadow it. They simply couldn’t get there in time.

It was a stark reminder of the limitations of a strategic deterrent comprising just six conventional submarines of which two are in deep maintenance, two are in training, with only two available at any one time – and limited by an underwater cruising speed of just 10 knots.
...The whole point of the next submarine acquisition was to avoid the problems of the Collins – to find the submarine that could be brought swiftly into service with the least possible modifications – but what we have done so far risks an exact repetition.
We’ve based our proposed sub on an existing design but one that will need to be so extensively reworked that it’s effectively a brand new submarine and our intention is to build it entirely in Australia.
...A unique Australian boat is precisely what we wanted to avoid; but it’s exactly what we now face because of our insistence on a submarine that as well as being large, and long-range, was also conventionally powered.
The competitive evaluation process conclusively showed that there’s no such thing currently in existence. All the submarines on which the bids were based are excellent for their countries’ needs – but none, it seems, for ours.
The Japanese sub lacked range.
The German sub lacked size.
And the French sub lacked conventional power.
But instead of changing what we wanted, we’ve decided – again – to bring an orphan submarine into being.
Instead of taking a small Swedish submarine designed for the Baltic and seeking to double its size and range to make it suitable for the Pacific – as with the Collins – this time we’re proposing to take a French nuclear submarine and completely redesign it to work with conventional propulsion.
...The resulting sub will have less power, less range, less speed and less capability than the existing submarine on which it’s based and it will come into service about a decade later than would be optimal at a time when strategic circumstances are changing against us.
Hence the basic question: why should we spend years designing a sub that’s inferior to one we could potentially have now?
...a conventional sub takes at least a fortnight to go from Australia to the South China Sea through which passes more than 50 per cent of our trade.
...I stress: I do not want to interrupt the process of acquiring new submarines given that it had languished for so long.

The design process with DCNS should continue and so should the build if that remains our fully considered assessment of what’s best."
Next week Submarine Matters will republish Abbott's comments on the need for Australia to acquire "regionally superior" NUCLEAR attack submarines.
Tony Abbott (left) on a warship. Photo courtesy Australia's news(dot)com(dot)au.


Ztev Konrad said...

Isnt the question 'Why does Australia have a submarine base in Perth , after deciding the previous base in Sydney was too far from the area of interest in SE Asia' ?
As for the Russian task force, surely the intel would have given some indications of its progress and it would
certainly have been of interest to submarines from China, Japan, Singapore, US.

Josh said...


As noted above, I find it hard to fathom that no advanced warning was given. I also find it hard to understand how at least a single intercept could not have been arranged. Russia formations are limited by their ocean going tugs top speed of about a dozen knots; they shouldn't have been challenging to catch with some warning.

That said I don't see how the RAN could go nuclear unless it did an off the shelf buy from the RN,MN, or USN and let them do the maintenance. The infrastructure for nuclear support is too extensive.

But I have always been of the opinion that RAN should have bought a different boat. The French boat will have nothing in common with its nuclear counter part outside hull shape.


Peter Coates said...

Hi Ztev

I haven't ever heard "previous base in Sydney was too far from the area of interest in SE Asia". More likely Sydney Harbour was getting too congested with civilian ship and ferry traffic and also the RAN wanted a better balance of ships/subs between Fleet Bases West and East.


- usually have there major bases next to large cities for manpower and other support services, and

- are usually based far from potential threats if possible. Hence in WWII US and UK submarines were based at Fremantle (near Perth) and at Brisbane - both ports being far from threatening Japanese airpower.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Australian_Navy_Submarine_Service#1914_to_1945 :

"The Australian ports of Fremantle and Brisbane were important bases for Allied submarines during World War II. A total of 122 United States Navy, 31 Royal Navy, and 11 Royal Netherlands Navy submarines conducted patrols from Australian bases between 1942 and 1945. Fremantle was the second largest Allied submarine base in the Pacific Theatre after Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.[10]"



Peter Coates said...

Hi Josh and Ztev

On the lack of admitted Australian submarine surveillance of that Russian flotilla in 2014.

I said in 2014 http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=16875 "a US nuclear propelled attack submarine of the Los Angeles or Virginia class may have shadowed the Russian force from its surface fleet base at Vladivostok (see map) then southwards to Australia." and I still think US SSN surveillance was likely.

Also the Russian flotilla may have been protected by a Russian Akula SSN - a "regionally superior" submarine that Australian SSKs (Collins or Shortfin) couldn't - won't be able to handle in blue-water scenerios.

Yes Australia will need to buy SSNs sooner or later. Advantage of buying the Naval Group (was DCNS) Shortfin first is that Naval Group will appreciate the $Billions Australia has already sunk into the Shortfin.

Also the (non-proliferation champion) US has not been convincing in its readiness to supply its world superior SSN technology to other countries (other than the UK RN). Meanwhile any UK readiness is constrained by US restrictions on re-export of much US technology that is in UK SSNs and SSBNs (including the reactors).



Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

Once US ambassador admitted export of Virginia subs to Australia, but, now situation has changed. Last year, secret imformation on CEP had consecutively leaked at real time.The Federal Police had started investigation on the leakage more than years ago, but, any result is yet reported. This proves that the information security system collapse and that Turnbull Administration has no will nor ability to establish and maintain the information security system.

Discussion on nuclear submarine by many Australian journals except Submarine Matters lack view point of information security which is prerequisite of export of Virginia subs.