MELBOURNE — A government-commissioned review examining problems with Australia’s Collins-class submarines found that inadequately designed logistical support arrangements were unable to keep an adequate number of boats at sea.
The review determined that this problem was later masked by other issues such as lack of leadership, maintenance overruns, inadequate provisioning of spare parts and crewing difficulties since the first submarine entered the water in 1996.
Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith and Minister for Defense Materiel Jason Clare jointly announced the results of the Collins review on Dec. 12.
The country has struggled to meet operational requirements with its six Collins-class subs, which entered service between 1996 and 2003. Last year, the administration of Prime Minister Julia Gillard commissioned a study by John Coles, an independent expert from the U.K.
The report recommends steps over a three-year period to bring the fleet to the point at which two boats are available for operations at any given time; three are available 90 percent; and four for 50 percent of the time.
It also proposes a 25-point plan to reach what it considers the international benchmark for submarine operations by 2016, including reducing the full-docking cycle of each boat from three years to two years and having only one undergoing the full-docking cycle process at any given time.
“The Coles report essentially says that the basic flaw with maintenance and sustainment of the Collins Class submarine has existed since the first boat went into the water in 1996,” Smith said.
“This has been a problem which has bedeviled the Collins class for over 17 years and been a long-standing, entrenched difficulty for successive governments, for defense, for the Navy, the Defense Materiel Organisation and for [shipbuilder] ASC itself. It’s quite clear from the report that we fall substantially below any comparable international benchmark.”
Kym Bergmann, a defense analyst and editor of Asia Pacific Defence Reporter, said the report is “a damning indictment of Navy, the Defence Materiel Organisation and ASC ... which has been a government business enterprise since 2000.
“In addition to accepting and acting on all of the review findings, the government should privatize ASC as soon as possible — a process that unfortunately would take a minimum of two years,” Bergmann said.
The ministers also announced the findings into a review of the ability of the Collins boats to achieve their 28-year design life, finding no single reason they should not be able to.
The Collins Class Service Life Evaluation Program report also found no reason the subs cannot each have their lives extended by another seven- year operating cycle, if required. The extension would see the boats reach the end of their service lives between 2031 and 2038.
The Gillard government intends to build 12 large conventionally-powered subs from around 2019 and therefore needs confidence that the Collins boats will last the distance.
The third announcement concerned the establishment of a land-based test site in South Australia for the Future Submarine program. Known as the Submarine Propulsion, Energy, Support and Integration Facility, it will enable the testing of the new subs’ propulsion system before it is incorporated into the vessel.
“The land-based test facility will also help ensure that challenges encountered from the maintenance of the Collins-class fleet are addressed,” the ministers said.