Warship Technology: March 2020
At a reported cost in the order of A$80 billion (US$55 billion), the design and construction of the Royal Australian Navy’s new-generation ‘Future Submarine’ programme is the largest Defence procurement in Australia’s history.
The decision not to acquire a military‐off‐the-shelf submarine platform, and instead engage a ‘strategic partner’ to design and deliver the submarines with significant Australian industry input, has increased the risk associated with the acquisition and there is ongoing parliamentary and community interest and debate about the Department of Defence’s management of the programme.
The submarines are to be designed and constructed by Naval Group Australia at the Osborne Shipyard in South Australia. Lockheed Martin Australia is the combat system integrator. A key agreement, the Future Submarine Strategic Partnering Agreement, was signed by Defence and Naval Group on 11 February 2019. The first contract entered into under the Strategic Partnering Agreement was the Submarine Design Contract signed on 1 March 2019. The first Future Submarine is expected to enter service in 2034. The submarines, a total of 12 currently, are being procured to replace the fleet of six Collins class submarines currently operated by the Royal Australian Navy (Navy), which without an extension to their service life, are due to be withdrawn from service by 2036.
The programme is already said to be running nine months behind schedule, and two key design milestones for the new submarines have been extended. Concerns about the cost and capability of the submarines have rarely been out of the headlines, the original cost of the programme having been estimated at A$50 billion. Concern has also been expressed about the negotiation of the Strategic Partnering Agreement with Naval Group and the French government; the possible emergence of a capability gap; the planned life-of-type extension of the Collins class to address any capability gap; and the Department of Defence’s Naval Shipbuilding Plan.
Now a report by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has raised fresh concerns about the programme.