For Australia and its quest for enhanced defense industrial sovereignty, submarines are identified in the government’s report on defense industrial capability as the number one and two items.
The first item involves the approach to Collins class submarine maintenance and technology upgrades.
And the second involves the new build submarine which is to be built with a continuous shipbuilding program and a rolling submarine acquisition program approach.
But it is difficult to have a rolling submarine acquisition program is you do not have an agreement with those with whom you are to build that submarine.
And that is becoming the challenge.
Our latest strategic insights report provides a look at the challenges facing the new build program and examines options which a new government might pursue if the French option becomes too difficult.
In 2016, Australia announced that France had won the competition to build the new submarine for Australia to replace the Collins class submarine. At that time both a secrecy and an initial agreement to put in place and agreements putting in motion work on the design contract were executed. The result has been that there are Australian engineers working in France with Naval Group.
Yet since that time, the Aussies have agreed to a new buy of ASW frigates with the British and have concluded the initial agreement with Lockheed Martin with regard to the new build submarine combat systems.
The baseline agreement governing the build of the new submarines remains a work in progress. They have been recent reports that the negotiations have reached an impasse, although the Defence Minister of Australia, Christopher Pyne, has recently commented that although difficult, the negotiations remain on track.
But this is no ordinary agreement. At its heart, the Australian and the French will have to agree to co-design and co-development of a submarine which has never been built. They will as well have to find ways to move beyond classic technology transfer or the fork-lift approach which Australia has traditionally used to bring in new military platforms.
The question is can they do it?
And can they succeed in building a timely project which delivers a “regionally superior” submarine?
And what are the alternatives which a new Australian government could pursue?
To procure the report, please see the following:
The featured photo shows he Royal Australian Navy Collins Class Submarine HMAS Sheean at sunset during a routine transit and training exercise off Christmas Island. Credit: Australian Department of Defence.