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June 30th 2017 print

Tony Abbott

The Case for a Nuclear Navy

Addressing the Centre for Independent Studies this week, Tony Abbott laid out the flaws and folly of re-working French nuclear submarines into Australian diesel-electric ones. While the more quotable elements of his speech were widely reported, that analysis warrants consideration in full

sub collinsKeeping the country safe is the first duty of government and should be the constant concern of those with responsibility for our well-being. I’m proud that the Abbott government successfully stopped uncontrolled people flows into our country that, in different circumstances, could have become an existential threat.

I’m pleased that we swiftly rose to the challenge of Islamist terrorism: with more airport security, more powers to detain terror suspects, new terrorist offences, more resources for police and intelligence, and a strong military commitment to destroying the death cult in the Middle East.

I’m pleased that the Turnbull government has maintained these policies. But I worry that a decade or so hence, maybe sooner, Australia might face a security crisis in our region and find that governments of yesterday and today had left their successors with inadequate means to deal with it.

When a Russian naval task force appeared to our north at the time of the Brisbane G20, I was told that neither of our two deployed submarines could shadow it. They simply couldn’t get there in time. It was a stark reminder of the limitations of a strategic deterrent comprising just six conventional submarines of which two are in deep maintenance, two are in training, with only two available at any one time – and limited by an underwater cruising speed of just 10 knots.

If the world were becoming more secure and if our allies were becoming more dominant, perhaps that wouldn’t matter very much. This must be hoped for and it should be worked towards but it can’t be taken for granted.

Government’s job is to plan for the worst as well as to work for the best. We will be judged by history as well as by our contemporaries and, at least where national defence is concerned, we have to think and prepare for the very long term indeed. Defence capabilities can’t be summoned up overnight, as Australia discovered in 1942 when we had to send Wirraways against Zeros — before Spitfires and Mustangs could be brought into theatre. That’s why it’s good that the Turnbull government is seeing through the process that my government put in train to select the next submarine for the Royal Australian Navy.

After years of procrastination, we desperately needed a government that didn’t shirk decisions about what our navy needs to safeguard national security. I fear, though, that the right outcome from the submarine competitive evaluation process was not to pick the best of the three bids but to reassess what we were asking for.

Quadrant Online: Where Is Our Hyman Rickover?

As things stand, if all goes well, the first of the new subs will take seven years to design, seven years to build and perhaps two further years to bring into service. If everything goes to plan (and it very rarely does in naval procurement), the absolute soonest we could get the first of our new subs is the early-2030s – to replace the Collins class subs that were originally supposed to start leaving service in the mid-2020s. The Collins Class was designed in the 1980s, built in the 1990s, and then extensively modified and rebuilt in the noughties so that what was a very-good-sub-on-its-day could much more reliably take to sea. As things stand, the Collins will need to be upgraded and modernised again while we plan for its replacement.

The whole point of the next submarine acquisition was to avoid the problems of the Collins, to find the submarine that could be brought swiftly into service with the least possible modifications – but what we have done so far risks an exact repetition.

We’ve based our proposed sub on an existing design, but one that will need to be so extensively reworked that it’s effectively a brand new submarine and our intention is to build it entirely in Australia. Although surface ships can be cost-effectively produced here on a continuous-build basis, the primary object of defence procurement has to be the most effective armed forces, not domestic job creation. We don’t build our jet fighters here, for instance, (although we do build parts for them), so why insist on a local build especially if there’s a big cost penalty?

A unique Australian boat is precisely what we wanted to avoid; but it’s exactly what we now face because of our insistence on a submarine that as well as being large, and long-range, was also conventionally powered. The competitive evaluation process conclusively showed that there’s no such thing currently in existence.

All the submarines on which the bids were based are excellent for their countries’ needs – but none, it seems, for ours. The Japanese sub lacked range. The German sub lacked size. And the French sub lacked conventional power. But instead of changing what we wanted, we’ve decided – again – to bring an orphan submarine into being.

Instead of taking a small Swedish submarine designed for the Baltic and seeking to double its size and range to make it suitable for the Pacific — as with the Collins — this time we’re proposing to take a French nuclear submarine and completely redesign it to work with conventional propulsion.

This is so much more than the naval version of putting a four cylinder engine into an eight cylinder car because almost everything inside a nuclear powered submarine assumes unlimited power. The resulting sub will have less power, less range, less speed and less capability than the existing submarine on which it’s based and it will come into service about a decade later than would be optimal at a time when strategic circumstances are changing against us. Hence the basic question: why should we spend years designing a sub that’s inferior to one we could potentially have now?

It’s worth noting that Australia has not made a formal decision against acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, so much as studiously avoided even asking the question. This was true of my government, like its predecessors, because — in hindsight — we may have overestimated Japan’s capacity to mount a bid and expected more than was reasonable of a submarine partnership virtually starting from scratch. But now that the competitive evaluation process has established that there’s no conventional submarine to be had any time soon, this is a debate we should no longer avoid, especially as the strategic balance is shifting even faster now than last year’s defence white paper anticipated.

I’m not saying that ‘we must go nuclear’, but surely we should at least consider the option before the opportunity is lost for another several decades.

The French-based design is hardly begun, let alone finalised. No contract to build has been signed and won’t be for years. This is because it’s a completely new sub — inspired by, rather ‘based on’. the existing nuclear model — that needs to be designed from scratch rather than simply modified to take a different engine. So there is still a chance for further thought on this; there may even be a duty to consider Plan B should the design process be further delayed or should regional tensions show little sign of abating.

Our region is building more and bigger submarines. Indonesia has two, with three more coming. Singapore has four, with four more coming. Vietnam has six and Korea has 14. Japan has 19 advanced conventional subs. India has two ballistic missile subs, one nuclear powered attack sub, and 13 conventional subs with six more coming. The Russian Pacific Fleet reportedly has five ballistic missile subs, 10 nuclear powered attack subs and eight conventional subs.

Then there’s China with four ballistic missile subs, five nuclear powered attack subs and over 50 conventional subs with more and more coming all the time.

Our new subs are supposed to be “regionally superior” — including, presumably, to the sharply increasing numbers of nuclear-powered attack submarines that are based in our region. Armed with the best US combat system, they should be [regionally superior], but they still have to be in the right place at the right time — and a conventional sub takes at least a fortnight to go from Australia to the South China Sea, through which passes more than 50 per cent of our trade. In other words, the regional submarine competition is vastly more challenging than it was when we last made a decision to go with a conventionally-powered submarine back in the 1980s. Since then, both the United States and Britain have phased out their own diesel-electric submarines; presumably because there was nothing really needing to be done that nuclear subs or, perhaps, unmanned underwater vehicles couldn’t do as well.

Within the defence community, it’s sometimes said that our conventional subs complement the US’ capabilities because their ability to switch off their diesels and run on battery alone allows them to carry out closer undetected surveillance. This is an important niche role, but not a submarine’s main one: to inflict massive damage on an enemy’s ability to wage war.

I stress: I do not want to interrupt the process of acquiring new submarines, given that it had languished for so long. The design process with DCNS should continue and so should the build if that remains our fully considered assessment of what’s best. But parallel with that, we should rethink what we want our subs to do, and what they might be up against in a changing threat environment, and explore nuclear-powered options while our committed costs are only in the hundreds of millions. In an increasingly uncertain and competitive strategic environment, can we afford to lack a more robust, sovereign (or semi-sovereign) capacity to deter and resist a sophisticated adversary? It might be very hard to do that without subs that can range far and fast throughout our region.

Conventional subs need to surface frequently to recharge their batteries, need to refuel every 70 days, and can only briefly maintain a top speed of about 20 knots.

Nuclear powered submarines, on the other hand, can stay submerged as long as the crew can endure, never have to refuel, and can travel at nearly 40 knots.

In the Abbott government’s discussions about getting the best possible submarine for Australia as quickly as possible, we more-or-less assumed that our (currently limited) nuclear engineering capacity precluded that option. Creating a nuclear industry to service subs here would take a decade, perhaps more, yet might turn out to be a lesser challenge than designing and building a new class of submarine almost from scratch. Within the 15-plus years that it’s currently planned to take to get even the first of our new conventional subs into service, we could develop a nuclear servicing capability. And if we were to buy or lease a US submarine it could initially be supported at the American bases in Guam and Hawaii.

In the 1960s, we relatively swiftly developed a civilian nuclear capacity, mainly for medicine, centred on the Lucas Heights facility in Sydney; so it can be done if the will is there. Not more robustly challenging the nuclear no-go mindset is probably the biggest regret I have from my time as PM.

The first question would be whether the US could provide us with their nuclear-powered subs. The US already provides Australia with its most advanced aircraft and tanks and its most sophisticated submarine torpedo weapons system. The US has previously provided Britain with its most sensitive nuclear submarine technology. There are said to be safety concerns about a country newly operating nuclear powered subs, but these could be allayed by seconding personnel from more experienced navies. And a much more capable Australian submarine fleet — strong enough to be a game-changer in any regional maritime conflict — would certainly help to address US concerns about countries “free-riding” on the alliance.

We have nothing to lose from starting a discussion on this issue with our allies and friends — Britain and France — as well as primarily with the US.

Then there’s the issue of bi-partisan support for a nuclear powered submarine. In my experience, Labor has tried to avoid playing politics with national security. If a strong national security case were to be made for nuclear-powered submarines, I am confident that, at least under the present Labor leadership, it would get a fair hearing. Labor has actually been stronger than the government on the assertion of freedom of navigation rights in the South China Sea. Naturally enough, Labor is proud of its national security credentials and especially of its record under John Curtin and Ben Chifley and Bob Hawke.

Former Prime Minister Hawke has long advocated a bigger nuclear industry for Australia; and the South Australian Labor government under Premier Jay Wetherill would like to develop new industries to supplement the uranium mine at Roxby Downs. Why not have a nuclear submarine servicing facility in that state — and the industries that would inevitably spin-off?

In any event, we’ll never know what Labor’s attitude might be without the public debate which I hope might now start.

Finally, there’s the question of cost. Because of the engineering requirements, nuclear submarines are invariably more expensive to build and operate than conventional ones. On the other hand, even nine (say) nuclear powered submarines could more than do the work of 12 conventional boats. Much would depend upon the deal that the US might give to a close ally offering even closer interoperability and integration with American forces. We won’t know until we ask, but more burden sharing seems to be exactly what the new US administration wants.

We should never forget that our capacity to defend ourselves in ten, twenty or thirty years’ time depends critically on decisions made now. This is the area where our duty to our successors is most acute; this is the responsibility that the present owes to the future: not to compromise the nation’s defences a decade hence by short-sightedness now. Like everyone, I hope that our country is never challenged and that our submarines never have to fight. But the stronger we are, the more likely it is that we will live our lives in comparative peace.

Short-term politics should never constrain what’s needed for our national security; and on this subject, at least, we should be big enough to take the long view.

Comments [25]

  1. Bill Martin says:

    A sound, convincing argument. Sadly, it suffers from a fatal flaw: Tony Abbott being its author. Rightly or wrongly – very wrongly in my view – there is so much seething hatred boiling in the cauldron of his enemies, that he would be ridiculed regardless of what he said. That mindset is an essential component of the guarantee that Labour will prevail at the next election.

  2. Jon R says:

    Tony is as always speaking plain common sense. I was watching a program last night about the worlds biggest cruise ship. Eighteen months from design to launch and everything worked first time round. The ASC built six boats, the last completed in 2003. It has existed ever since on repairing the boats it built. I hope we got a good warranty?

    We can buy off the shelf boats cheaper, and with a delivery time far shorter. Another big issue is confusion about what we want them to do. Then there is crewing them, we can’t even crew the boats we have. If we take a nuclear boat and modify it, it needs to be made bigger to take the new, as yet undesigned power plant. This will give us half the range, and half the performance at probably twice the cost.

    • Doubting Thomas says:

      Sooner or later we will need to come to our collective senses about nuclear power and nuclear submarines. It will not happen any time soon because our imbecilic political parties and processes are simply incapable of rational action. All things nuclear are anathema to the brain-damaged left, and even to large slices of the more moderate centre. Any talk of our producing any sort of state of the art submarine in this country with our crippled industrial systems is mere fantasising. As you say, we can’t even crew the boats we have, and unless there is a massive change for the better in our national maturity we will never manage a larger more sophisticated submarine force.

  3. en passant says:

    When did Tony wake from his slumber? To anyone with 5-minutes interest in Defence matters this French submarine is the mother of all bad decisions, even worse than the nearly, maybe flying F-35 mongerel, the Tiger and Seasprite helicopter debacles, the Abrams Tank (good in its environment, but not for Australia) and the RAN pride and joy, the LHD that is too unsafe to leave Sydney Harbour.

    So, what do we provide to our ADF warriors to fight, win and survive on the modern battlefield?

    Well, there is gender equality training, armchair legal inquisitors who will leisurely pore over every contact to ensure we only hurt people using a minimum of force or the Emily’s Lister lawyer will prosecute you for a decision made in 0.5 seconds. Oh, and who can forget the Orwellian slogan trumpeted by a former Defence Support Minister: “Strength through Diversity”. No, you did not misread that inanity thinking it was “Strength through Unity”. Ministers really think a team playing in a deadly game can win with everyone doing their own special dance.

    The submarine ‘decision’ to save SA from defecting to the ‘enemy’ was just a cynical exercise in politics. I will bet Pyne and co. $1,000 that these submarines will NEVER be built in SA and another $1,000 that they will never be built at all. As they own the deck of cards taking the bet is surely the easiest money they will ever make …

  4. mags of Queensland says:

    I’ve never understood why we haven’t been planning for this decades ago. We don’t have the capability to build any of the required elements for our armed forces. That’s fact. We are never likely to be able to do the job. Also a fact. We would need the entire Federal Budget to build anything here because of the usual cost over runs, union demands and lack of expertise.

    It is possible to buy off the shelf hardware that could be delivered in a timely manner. Why aren’t we doing that? Well we had to save that prancing poodle Christopher Pyne for starters by pretending that they could be built in a State that can’t even guarantee that there will be enough power to run the factories required.

    The US and other countries have been using nuclear powered subs for decades. It’s about time we came into the 21st century and did the same.Plans would need minimal modification to meet our specific needs and we would get them sooner. We can always send our naval crews to work with the US, Britain or some other ally until we get our own training officers. We can have any maintenance done in US shipyards until we can build and make operational our own yards. What’s so hard about that? Well, because it is Tony Abbott saying this that it will never happen. How stupid and shortsighted are our ” leaders”.

  5. Warty says:

    CIS notified me via email of Tony’s impending talk, and I must say, despite having defected to The Australian Conservatives, I was riveted, I was more than convinced about our current dud deal; appalled by the Collins Class semi submersible dog turds, with a cruising speed of 10 knots, as opposed to a Russian nuclear sub’s 40 knots, and I retrospectively felt like a mushroom. I felt like a mushroom because of the Turnbull’s con job on the replacement subs that will not be operational until, at the earliest, 2030, by which time I will have been required to learn Mandarin.
    But that’s not the half of it. The other 60% was that I felt entirely inspired by the Battle Lines mark 2 of a Tony fired up. I felt like dragging Jodi to the tele and saying ‘this is the guy you’ve been knocking, but isn’t he exactly what we need’. Unfortunately she came back with that tired Monti Python line, from the Life of Brian: ‘he’s not the messiah, he’s just a naughty boy’. But I gave her one of my more ferocious frowns and she apologised and told me maybe I had a point, and that she’d vote for him at the earliest opportunity.
    But honestly, I though ‘what the flamingo’, who on earth would get rid of this bloke in exchange for a perfidious clown, but that’s just what we’ve done.
    Tony’s maiden speech to the CIS was so much more than about submarines: it was about an alternative leadership for those who have ears.
    For those new to Quadrant, the Jodi/Tony interchange is a bit of an in-house bit of hilarity, that’d take volumes to explain. To tell the truth I don’t understand her dislike of the man. Perhaps she has Peter van Onselen as a house guest.

    • Jody says:

      I didn’t know this was about me, but I agree with John Laws; why is this ugly gargoyle doing the rounds again and behaving like a leader of the opposition?

      • en passant says:

        Because he is the rightful Leader of the opposition who was usurped by a backstabbing Malevolent Turncoat.

        How is the usurper working out for you all?

  6. whitelaughter says:

    Two questions about buying off the shelf:
    1) Do economies of scale mean that we could save still more by going a joint purchase with some of our allies?
    2) will using the same equipment as our allies make supplying them easier?

  7. Jody says:

    “The Australian” today carries a story which should surprise nobody; Gen Y has overtaken the ‘boomers’ as the biggest single demographic in this country. Also, other date from the recent census – namely our immigrant composition – reveals why invoking Menzies, Abbott and the 1950s is no longer viable. At least Turnbull, for all his lack of political nous, understands the changing polity and that he needs to be ‘politic’. Abbott is a throwback to the 1950s and Menzies Liberalism which, while entirely worthy for its time, shows no understanding whatsoever of the needs and aspirations of our new immigrant group and rising younger generation. Zilch.

    • Doubting Thomas says:

      Jody, just exactly what did Tony Abbott do to you that causes you to vent such viciously spiteful ad hominem? And which is this “our new immigrant” group whose needs and aspirations are such that we need to change our society radically to accommodate them? And what is it about our rising younger generation that makes Turnbull a more suitable leader than Abbott? Is it, perhaps, his rampant narcissism? His traitorous behaviour? His apparently complete lack of principles?

      Surely our rising generation are better than that?

      • Jody says:

        It means that the DEMOGRAPHIC has changed and that its needs are quite different from the Boomers. New migrants to this country know nothing or care nothing about Menzies; they are about jobs, energy security, affordable housing, education and health. They are wondering about the wars going on inside the Coalition over the “Menzies Liberal Party” and wondering what the hell this has to do with their lives. Turnbull is probably incapable of arguing a case but Abbott certainly isn’t either; he has proven himself totally incapable of making an argument and fulfilling election promises. The rising numbers of Gen Y – who will all be paying to keep Boomers in the manner to which they’re accustomed – have a RIGHT to express their beliefs about their future; Australia’s future. That may or may not include nuclear submarines, more coal etc. etc., but right now they feel excluded from the discussion. Abbott is fixated on his own version of the Australia he’d like to say. I simply argue that other people see things very differently. And he clings to the majority he got in 2013 not understanding at all that governments LOSE elections, oppositions don’t WIN them. I’ve been around long enough to get that

        Abbott is yesterday’s news; the young guns in the Coalition will be running things going forward.

        • Doubting Thomas says:

          Who said that these people don’t have a RIGHT to express their beliefs about their future? Straw men abound in your analysis. As an aside, you trot out the lamest of lame arguments about the younger generation having to pay for us in our dotage? Who paid for them in their sometimes grossly extended childhood? There is sane, rational politics and there is modern identity politics. Reason trumps emotion every time.

          Your animus against Abbott is irrational.

          • Jody says:

            You are ignoring the facts about the changing demographic of Australia. Rather conveniently, but not enough to mount a credible argument. What was your expostulation again…”we need to radically change our society accommodate them?” You’ve belled the cat here on your own prejudices which are that the status quo mustn’t be disturbed and that somebody owes you. Nobody owes anybody anything; we are not our brother’s keepers. But we live in a democracy where ALL our people have political needs and some of these may be inconsistent, some unworkable. I’m saying harking back to some golden period and Tony Abbott is a creature of the past.

            What IS missing in this country is a leader who understand this changing demographic, the pressures on the polity from specific interests groups and the impact this is having on the national debt. If Abbott had stood up at the press club and said, “we’re asking for a $7 co-payment for a visit to the doctor so that Medicare (a Labor initiative; don’t tell me the Coalition was being Labor-lite supporting THAT!!!) would be sustainable. Instead the klutz argued about a medical research fund. If he’d held up a bag of dog bones (and EVERY POOR PERSON has a dog!) and said, ‘THIS is the cost of your co-payment and those who still cannot afford it will get a safety net” he would have had a chance in hell of making the argument.

            You can call that ‘straw man’ if it makes you feel better.

        • Warty says:

          In terms of formulating an argument, Abbot has few peers. In any case check out his very recent presentations to both the CIS and the IPA. I recall you’re saying that you’d forever renounce the IPA for inviting him to give a presentation, which seemed a little odd, considering the calibre of the people working there and their excellent publications. Somebody on Sky, or it may have been 2GB talked of the change in delivery, comparing the CIS Abbot presentation to the ‘umming’ and ‘ahing’ deliveries when Tony was PM: it harks back to the opposition leader Tony in full flight (and throat).
          As I may have mentioned before, being stabbed forty – fifty times in the back seems to have brought back the old rottweiler Tony.
          It is heartening that you, a baby boomer Jodi, should feel sympathetic towards this Gen Y, which apparently now outnumber us. For a start, such has been their education, most are likely to vote Green. And such is their sense of entitlement, they are more than likely put the finishing touches to Venezuela down under, started under Turnbull, extended under the six years of little Billy Shorten, partially restored to health by the new major party The Australian Conservatives, and then sent into the Dark Ages by a largely Muslim Gen Y.

          • Jody says:

            Reminds me of those apposite lines from Alan Lerner:

            “Talk, talk, talk,
            I’m so sick of talk;
            I get talk all day through,
            First from him, now from you,
            Is that all you blighters can do”?

    • en passant says:

      Alluha Akbar, Jody. Better try out your black body bag to meet the ‘new Oz’ requirements.

      Resistance is futile

      • Jody says:

        A cheap shot and one, I’m afraid, we’ve come to expect. I think it tells us rather a lot about Abbott supporters too. We don’t just have muslims in this country, in case you haven’t noticed.

        • en passant says:

          My comment (way off topic) to the Jody Troll at:

          “Jody,
          Firstly, don’t forget our $1,000 bet about Trump. I haven’t.
          Secondly, I worked my guts out for 40-years and am a self-funded retiree that the ScoMo-Turnbull sock-puppets proposed robbing.
          How dare I rise above the herd and not need the nanny state. How un-Australian of me.
          How dare I look back nostalgically to a time when I could walk on to an aircraft without being body-searched with no concerns about getting off alive. How un-Australian of me.
          How dare I look back nostalgically to a time when I could pick up a newspaper and not have to read about the latest muslim atrocity. I last bought a paper in May for the specific purpose of measuring how much of it was filled with print about the 2.5% peaceful murderers. Seven stories covering 2-full pages. Amazingly, four of the stories managed to fit in the muslim fears of islamophobia and the expected backlash against them.
          2.5% of a cancer that will never assimilate occupied 14% of the news section – and on a quiet day when few had been killed. Is this the new Oz I should be embracing? I think not, but I see no hope in either the Liberal Lite Greens or the Olive Green Labor Loons. As for the Green Reds, well, what does it say about the 11% young and old fools who have been hypnotised by their delusions? The next vote in SA will be the litmus test of how far towards terminal madness Australia has progressed.
          Frankly, it does not affect me any more, but I have children and grandchildren to whom I would have liked to have bequeathed a better Oz than when I arrived. What I will leave (not personally) is the rotted carcass of an impoverished ‘Venezuelan’ country torn apart and held in fear by an implacable enemy deliberately imported by our political class. Those who support them deserve the death and destruction already arriving in Oz, but unfortunately, they are not concerned because they know that statistically the murders to come are likely to befall someone else. Observe ‘Toy Boy’ Macron’s France, Sweden and Belgium and you will see the future of Oz.
          Add to that the treason of the purchases of flawed and faulty military equipment with which we expect our Defence forces to fight and die (for die they will) and Oz is approaching past tense – just as the elites dream of.
          I suggest you reread and show the flaws in a previous QoL article at: http://quadrant.org.au/opinion/qed/2017/04/agenda-destroy-australia/
          I have voted with my feet (actually via a comfortable hydrocarbon fuelled plane), but will return on occasion to watch and measure the decline of Oz at these political wizards hands.
          Keep the body bag and the $1,000 close by. Call it the ‘precautionary principle’.

    • whitelaughter says:

      Right, so a large immigrant population makes the political era in which Australian immigrants most successfully integrated and benefited Australian society irrelevant…no, that doesn’t scan.

  8. Doubting Thomas says:

    What makes me giggle (insanely) is that the burden of Jody’s argument is that Turnbull is the right man for the job because, unlike Abbott, he believes that the validity of a policy is directly proportional to the number and volume of voices calling for it.

  9. Bushranger71 says:

    ‘…a conventional sub takes a fortnight to go from Australia to the South China Sea…’ – Tony Abbott

    The RAN operated Oberon Class submarines between 1965 and 2000 and did conduct covert activities in the South China Sea at behest of the US. However; Australia’s geo-political situation has markedly changed since that time, especially vis-à-vis relations with the ASEAN Plus Three Regional Bloc and we are now somewhat viewed as a pariah State or a virtual vassal of the US. See this link regarding ASEAN geography: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/SvwabJNVGig/maxresdefault.jpg

    Defence White Paper 2009 prudently defined Australia’s principal area of military interest as being ‘…south of the Equator, between the eastern Indian Ocean and the island States of Polynesia…’, which did not embrace the South China Sea. Subsequently, US pressure resulted in removal of these parameters in later White Papers and substitution of more general support for American maintenance of self-perceived ‘primacy’ in the region.

    Post-Vietnam War, Special Operations functions began gaining more military prominence worldwide and some Australian experience with a special US Navy submarine may have spawned pressure in Canberra for larger capacity submarines to accommodate Special Forces and their underwater toys. An obvious question arises regarding the political and military wisdom of Australia involving in any clandestine operations beyond our near region.

    John Howard’s unaffordable Force 2030 vision for the ADF, spawned around Year 2000, was ill-conceived as nobody could predict technological developments and hardware requirements up to 30 years hence. Consequently, many good condition platforms that could have been cost-effectively optimized and a good level of force combat readiness maintained were shed, with tens of billions of dollars being squandered on some costly unsuitable replacements.

    While there is a surge toward submarine acquisition among regional nations, there are also some very significant advances in submarine detection technologies. The question therefore arises: ‘Will the huge cost of a replacement submarine program for Australia be justified, when it is somewhat probable that their military effectiveness might be much negated by the time they can be introduced into service?’

  10. Adelagado says:

    2 things. Firstly… who is actually against nuclear powered subs these days anyway? I’m not sure there is any significant opposition any more. (I don’t count ‘The Greens’ as significant in Defence matters).

    Secondly. By the time these subs are built they will have largely been made obsolete by underwater drones.

  11. Doc S says:

    I agree with Bill Martin’s conclusion that its not the eminently sensible suggestion of looking at a nuclear option but the fact that it comes from Tony Abbott that will see it ignored. A little over a week later and after a brief furore the media news cycle rumbles on and rather than Abbott’s hope that it would initiate debate, its essentially now been ignored and forgotten. This is, of course, a travesty as the nuclear theme let alone the specific subject of nuclear subs has long been shunned with any and all reasoned debate denied.

    One could have hoped that for starters the nuke subs alternative could have been suggested and its viability rigorously explored by one of our leading world-class defence think tanks like ASPI or the Lowy BEFORE Abbott released his paper (also published by ASPI) – in other words actual defence experts talking about it rather than a politician! But alas it hasn’t happened that way and the media have done the predictable thing and denigrated the suggestion because of its author rather than any reasoned evaluation of its merits.

    You’d think that there could be a bipartisan approach (Abbott was even magnanimous enough to suggest Shorten might adopt such an approach – not a chance of course!) and given the enormous potential benefits that a state-based nuke alternative could have been at least considered for South Australia by the Jay ‘Lights Out’ Weatherill government. But not a chance. Talking about ANYTHING nuclear is strictly verboten and anything both nuclear and Abbott doubly so.