Our Future Submarine Project Is Too Little, Too Late And For Too Much Money

2 October 2018

Two years after the selection of Naval Group as our Future Submarine Project partner, negotiations on a Strategic Partnering Agreement have stalled.

With news that the project’s cost has now blown out to more than $200 billion dollars, it’s time to reassess the programs direction.


Last month Defence confirmed to the Senate that our Future Submarines will not have air independent propulsion as used on all modern submarines, stating instead that the submarine will rely on the “increased battery and recharging capacity”.

In the next breath Defence advised that the battery that will be used will be lead-acid, not lithium-ion as found on the latest Japanese submarine and planned for many other submarines. It’s like Defence are buying a mobile phone for delivery in 2032 and asking that it be fitted with obsolete nickel cadmium batteries.

Coupled with a flawed decision to proceed with a pump jet, a device unsuited to diesel-electric submarines, our Future Submarine appears to be shaping up as anything but ‘regionally superior’.


In 2009, when the Future Submarine was first proposed, the strategic motive was to make sure we could operate submarines in the far off South China Sea.

In the nine years that have passed since the project kicked off, strategic circumstances have changed dramatically.

We have seen Chinese soft power dominating in East Timor, China proposing setting up a naval base in Vanuatu and their navy regularly deploying ships and submarines to the Indian Ocean.

Further changes are expected between now and when the first submarine is delivered, assuming it is on time.

And God forbid something happening between now and 2032; relying on 30-year-old Collins submarines for our defence would be akin to fighting World War II using World War I submarines.


Perhaps most concerning of all is the blowout in cost.

In 2009 twelve submarines were going to cost $50B dollars in out-turned (inflation adjusted) dollars.

By 2016 it was $50B in out-turned dollars just for acquisition. Recent inquiries by me at Senate Estimates have revealed the acquisition cost is actually $50B in constant dollars and that a further $50B is needed on through-life sustainment. $100B total in constant dollars!

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute has calculated the out-turned value at more than $200B.

So, while Josh Frydenberg was last week boasting of his Government savings this parliament, he was conveniently ignoring what’s happening on the other side of Lake Burley Griffin.

The Future Submarine Project is a project out of control.

With the breakdown in negotiations it’s time to walk away from the HMAS Turnbull class submarine and move to a different plan.

For less than $20 billion Australia could have up to 20 highly capable near off-the-shelf submarines, built in SA, with the build commencing much sooner and modified and enhanced by Australian industry.

To the extent the submarines are to be deployed long distances they can operate out of forward bases in Japan, Guam, Malaysia and Singapore (as our submarines have always done) or, indeed, from the newly announced Australian naval base at PNG’s Manus Island.

And with the more than $150B in change we could obtain additional Defence capabilities, build an electric car industry here in SA, revamp our vocational training system, fix the health and aged care systems and much, much more.

A HMAS ScoMo moment has arrived, although the PM may well be running Shorten of time.


This post was originally published on The Advertiser website on 2 October 2018.

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