We’re weakened by $300bn of Defence mistakes, cover-ups. By Robert Gottliebsen. After the F-35’s and submarines, comes the frigates.
The third defence equipment blunder that required cover-up has not been well documented. When Australia asked for tenders for the nine frigates, it stipulated that we wanted a vessel that was “in the water” and proven. We wanted to maximise Australian content. The Italian and Spanish tenders offered such a vessel but the British ship was not as advanced.
There was a lot of “rule Britannia” in the negotiations so, with a sense of history, we chose the British vessel even though it was more costly.
At some point we discovered that the base British vessel will not take the required US combat system plus the Australian radar system. So it’s now being completely redesigned.
The already high tender cost has risen 30 per cent to $45 billion and will go a lot higher. And local content is being slashed which means that we will not have extensive local infrastructure. The Canadians have similar problems but there is no cover-up.
The Americans took the Italian tender which is turning out very well because not only will their frigates be built at half the cost of the Australian vessels on the basis of our $45 billion current estimate. But given in reality we are designing a new frigate on a cost plus basis we might pay three or four times the American cost.
Like the submarines, the redesigning takes time and will leave Australia dangerously exposed in frigate capacity in the next decade. And the skilled Italians gave the Americans 98 per cent US content whereas our local content is being slashed.
These three blunders mean we don’t have the defence capability that we previously had in the region, but post Covid we have also skyrocketed our forward estimates of debt. We are now more dependent on the Americans then we have been since World War Two. That means we must stop trying to design new vessels and synchronise our defence equipment with existing proven equipment that is combatable with the Americans. And so we must join with them in strategies to overcome the shortcomings of the JSF. The Americans thought we were stupid to go with the French in submarines so we need to synchronise with their submarine investment. That may require us going nuclear. Maybe we should have the same frigates as the Americans. We are not achieving a defence capability in the region that we should have gained given the amounts we are spending
Accordingly, we must now look at our role in the region. With greatly reduced defence capacity we may need to see ourselves as a trading nation rather than a commentator on our trading partners.
The Chinese, with justification, think were are simply dumb which may be a reason why they treat us with contempt.
My parliamentary mates tell me the new Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie actually does understand the basic thrust of the problems but they are not sure he understands just how serious the mistakes have become in the post-Covid world.