A $15 billion fleet of Australian-built submarines will be the centrepiece of the Federal Government’s blueprint to shore up the nation’s defences and provide high-tech naval deterrence against Indonesia and China.
The Herald understands the 15- to 20-year project, nicknamed SEA 1000, will aim to replace the Royal Australian Navy’s fleet of six Collins Class submarines based at Garden Island, Western Australia.
The project promises to be one of the expensive items in the Government’s much-vaunted defence white paper.
The Adelaide-built submarines will combine Australian, European and American technology and the project is expected to create thousands of jobs, as well as interest from international submarine outfitters.
It is understood an announcement on who will head the project – expected to be a retired or serving admiral – will be made next week.
The commissioning of new submarines will have major diplomatic consequences, especially in Jakarta and Beijing.
Andrew Davies, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the existing fleet of Collins Class submarines were fast approaching retirement because of the sophistication of anti-shipping technology being developed by China and Russia.
Missiles developed by these nations are capable of flying at three times the speed of sound and a few metres above the sea. Indonesia has announced plans to buy up to 10 Russian-built Kilo Class submarines with this capability.
“This weaponry will make life much more difficult for surface warships, so if a middle power like Australia wants to have a credible long-range naval influence, new submarines are going to be better than surface ships,” Dr Davies said.
The six new submarines are expected to cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion each, and overheads are expected to be another $3 billion.
However, the navy would resist fiercely any move by Government to offset this cost by reducing the number of surface warships – which will fall to a low of 11 frigates and destroyers by 2018.
The Chief of Navy, Vice-Admiral Russ Crane, told a conference in Canberra late last year that submarines, while vital for “high-end war-fighting” were not the “complete solution”.
“Defence needs at least 11 capable surface combatants to ensure we can provide options across the full spectrum of contingencies, and this includes positively influencing events to prevent conflict, being a positive force in the region,” he said.
The Government-owned Australian Submarine Corporation is expected to bid for the submarine project. Companies from the United States, Britain, Germany, France and Spain are also expected to tender.
The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, signalled he was prepared to dig deep for new submarines in a speech to the RSL last year.
Mr Rudd said Australia needed to be at the forefront of military technology development and acquisition to “protect our sea lanes of communication and support our land forces as they deploy”.
Source: Sunday Herald Morning