Submission to Senate inquiry into naval shipbuilding

October 31, 2020
Royal Australian Navy Collins class submarine HMAS Rankin – photo licenced from Alamy

July 2020 and October 2020

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 Submissions 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 Plan. 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 first Submission calls for a review of both the SEA1000 (submarines) and SEA5000 (frigates) acquisition programs in order to examine whether they are likely to be cost-effective and to deliver platforms in a timely manner. The review should also examine whether the assets will be fit for purpose in the increasing challenging operating environment in the 2030s and beyond.

The second Submission focuses on the acquisition process for naval platforms, from capability definition through the shipbuilding task to the delivery of the assets. It highlights a failure to take sufficient account of risk in selecting the platform in the first place as well as the excessive costs of current and recent naval assets and the unacceptably low level of embodied Australian industry content. In the Submission, Submarines for Australia calls for a detailed review of naval acquisitions, including the Naval Shipbuilding Plan, with a view to substantially improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the process.

Download original submission - July 2020 (PDF 1.93MB)

Download supplementary submission - October 2020 (PDF 453KB)