06 August 2009

Future submarine: domestic design study

In Future submarine: why the design competition? (21 April 2009) I queried the thinking of Defence concerning the development of SEA 1000, the project to acquire a fleet of twelve next-generation submarines to replace the current Collins class boats when they begin to be withdrawn from service from 2025.

The thinking at the time appeared to be that Defence would engage two European designers to participate in a Defence-funded design development. For reasons outlined in that post, this struck me as an extraordinary and redundant step. The repository of submarine design knowledge relevant to Australia’s circumstances is our very own Government-owned ASC Pty Ltd.

Furthermore, it will take an Australian submarine builder to perform the necessary integration of technologies from United States and European companies that will not release their technologies to each other – another indicator of the central role that ASC must play.

These considerations nothwithstanding, the Defence Materiel Organisation’s approach seemed calculated to sideline ASC as far as possible.

In a welcome outbreak of commonsense the Minister for Defence, John Faulkner, and the Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science, Greg Combet, have today announced that Defence will call a Request for Tender (RFT) to complete a Domestic Design Study for SEA 1000.

In the media release announcing the intention to issue the RFT, Senator Faulkner said:

Investigations by the Future Submarine Project Office to date have covered a number of diverse areas aimed at developing an understanding of the capability of the international submarine industry.

This RFT adds to these preliminary investigations by examining Australia’s design capabilities, and forms part of a program of studies being undertaken to support the planning of Australia’s future submarines as outlined in the Defence White Paper.

The RFT would add to current information collected to help shape the approach to the design of the next generation submarine.

Mr Combet said:

We are undertaking a number of studies to identify and explore all the options to ensure we have the appropriate design capability to support our submarines throughout their life. The information we collect through this process will help to develop strategic options for the Government’s consideration.

This Government is committed to carefully planning for Australia’s next generation of submarines. This is clear through the program of studies and information we are gathering.

This request for tender recognises the skills that our Australian domestic defence industry has in the design and development of submarine technologies and systems.

All very polite stuff, but the reorientation of thinking is as clear as it is welcome – the earlier studies are being repositioned as “preliminary investigations”, part of the due diligence, but now we are going to take a good hard look at what our domestic industry can do, and give full weight to its capabilities: to repeat Mr Combet’s carefully chosen words, we are going to “identify and explore all the options to ensure we have the appropriate design capability to support our submarines throughout their life”.

Well done, those men.

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