Submission to Senate inquiry into naval shipbuilding

July 17, 2020
Royal Australian Navy Collins class submarine HMAS Rankin – photo licenced from Alamy

In July 2020, Submarines for Australia made a Submission to the inquiry by the Senate Economics Reference Committee into Australia’s sovereign naval shipbuilding industry.

A major theme of the Submission was that while the government’s Defence Strategic Review and Force Structure Plan, published on 1 July 2020, provided a significant change in Australia’s national security strategy, the major existing acquisition programs were excluded from consideration in the force structure review. Yet the current naval programs in particular may not be well aligned with the new strategic emphasis in at least two respects.

First, now that the concept of a ten-year strategic warning time has been discarded and, in the words of the Minister, “that future is now”, the lengthy delivery schedule for both the Attack class submarines and Hunter class frigates may not be consistent with the new urgency. The second issue is whether either of the new platforms is fit for purpose in terms of the reduced emphasis on coalition operations and the need to provide for the defence of Australia in and beyond the air-sea gap to our north.

The Submission calls for a review of three Defence programs:

  • SEA 1000, the acquisition program for the future submarine: in addition to the above points, we have called for such a Review on a number of occasions to ensure that the future submarine is affordable, has an acceptable level of risk and will be fit for purpose in what will be a much more dangerous operational environment in the future.
  • SEA 5000, the future frigate program: we are very concerned about the high cost and excessive risk of this program – in particular, we don’t understand why, having produced a concept design that ultimately resembles nothing other than a less powerful version of a DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyer built on an untested British platform, the Navy does not just acquire DDG-51s at much lower risk.
  • The Naval Shipbuilding Plan itself – as well as producing platforms that are far too costly by global standards, we do not believe the adjective ‘sovereign’ should be applied to a naval shipbuilding industry that exhibits such a low level of Australian industry content and is overly reliant on overseas companies operating at the end of very long supply chains.

Download full report (PDF 1.93MB)