Team to investigate Collins-class replacements

MILLIONS of taxpayer dollars will be spent to see whether Australia can design its own submarines despite the Defence Department admitting such a move would pose an « extreme risk » because of a lack of local expertise.

A meeting in Canberra today is expected to lead to the creation of a joint Defence and industry team to explore the option of an Australian design for the new fleet of 12 submarines.

Creating an Australian design for the new submarines is considered the most risky and least likely option for Defence, which is examining proven overseas designs as part of the $36 billion project.

In February, Rear Admiral Rowan Moffitt told a Senate estimates hearing that it made no sense for Australia to design submarines.

« If we were to design a submarine in Australia using the skills and resources we have in Australia today, the risk would be extreme, » he said. « No one is saying we should do that.

« We do not have the resources and no one has suggested that we do this entirely within our existing national resources. It is not something that makes a lot of sense to do in terms of design. »

However, a submarine concept design workshop being held by Defence in Canberra today for Australian industry representatives takes a different view, according to a workshop document obtained by The Australian.

« SEA 1000 (the new submarine program team) believes initial exploration of (a new design) is within the capability of Australian industry, and is considering the establishment of a Defence and industry integrated project team to examine this option by completing a submarine concept design study, » it says.

The concept design would be a 12-month project beginning in January.

The document warns that if further inspection reveals a shortfall of appropriate skills, the Australian design work may be scrapped. « If the skills are not available, then the design activity may not proceed, » it says.

An Australian design for the new submarines is one of four options being examined by the government.

The others are: to buy off-the-shelf submarines from overseas; to buy from overseas but modify the boats for Australian components such as weapon systems; and the evolution of an existing design including a possible « son of Collins » based on the Collins-class boats.

Whichever option is chosen, the boats will be built in Adelaide. The government plans to make a decision by early 2014 on which option is best.

The 2009 white paper locked the government into building the world’s largest and most advanced conventional submarine.

Since then, the ongoing problems of the Collins-class fleet, coupled with Defence budget cuts, have led to careful consideration of existing submarines from Europe, which would be cheaper and would pose less technical risk.

Defence maintains, however, that European submarines do not have the range or the payload required for long-range missions in Asian waters.

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