Australian Defence submarine contract with French is a shambles

Australian Defence submarine contract with French is a shambles, by Robert Gottliebsen.

As the horror of the Joint Strike Fighter mistake becomes understood and a series of other military equipment blunders come to the surface, the highest-powered consulting group ever to look at Australian defence has discovered the submarine contract with the French is a total shambles.

Given the history of mistakes we can now see that there is something fundamentally wrong with the defence decision-making process when it comes to major equipment projects. The government is now pouring extra money into defence but we are becoming a regional defence joke because we have taken the wrong equipment options.

And when you add that to the incredible blunders the NSW, Victorian and South Australian governments have made on energy, the deficit mess, and other government blunders we can see that something is horribly wrong with the way we are making decisions. …

The DCNS Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A design is a conventionally-powered derivative of France’s nuclear-powered Suffren-class submarines.

French Barracuda submarine, on order by the Australian military

[Michael Keating, who was head of the Australian Public Service,] says that many experts regarded the 2009 capability requirement as a mission statement for a nuclear submarine, rather than a conventionally powered, diesel-electric boat, but we don’t have the industrial capacity for nuclear submarines.

The Keating/Insight Economics view is that the 2009 capability requirement for the future submarines was overly ambitious, and that any attempt to satisfy it with a new and untested design diesel-electric boat — apart from being excessively expensive — would inevitably risk compromising the submarine force’s ability to discharge its most essential operational tasks. …

Defence selected Naval Group as its sole design partner based on its concept submarine, the Shortfin Barracuda, a ‘from the beginning’ developmental design, based on the nuclear-powered Barracuda (Suffren class) submarine that has yet to put to sea. Delivery would be from the early 2030s to 2050.

Neither of the game-changing technologies for diesel submarines such as air-independent propulsion and lithium-ion batteries was included.

(It’s a bit like the JSF aircraft costs that go before the unsuspecting parliament that don’t include the engine).

Defence says the cost is $50 billion (at least twice the cost of the German tender) but Keating explains why the cost is likely to be much more, and we might have to wait until around 2040 for an effective submarine as the contract gets deeper into the mire.

Our government process and the media are failing us. Another horrendous failure is their swallowing of the carbon dioxide theory of global warming — hook, line and sinker. Why are they so incompetent?

But let’s step back. Why are governments of both major political parties making these fundamental mistakes time and time again? According to Keating the enormous submarine decision was rushed over one Anzac Day weekend. That’s lunacy given the importance. But the reason for the mistakes goes deeper. One reason is that ministers surround themselves with advisers who have the same views as themselves. These advisers overrule the public service time and time again.

As a result, people of talent leave the public service and it can no longer provide the impartial advice that it once could.

That’s certainly the reason behind the energy mistakes. In defence it goes back about a decade or two when a series of top people were pushed out and those who took over were not equipped for the task.

Governments must now go outside the defence hierarchy to check their decisions and conclusions. They can start with Michael Keating, who should be given the task of fixing up the mess. Defence is too important to be left to the current bunch.