Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said that means the government had full confidence in the Collins project which had suffered from damage to its reputation over the years, much of it ill-informed.
“It has become an exemplar project. We regard sustainment and maintenance of the Collins class submarine as one of our core sovereign capabilities,” he said at PACIFIC 2017 on Wednesday.
Mr Pyne said in many ways the first Collins was a prototype which the public and media expected to be perfect from day one.
“That wasn’t really realistic. There of course were real problems with the Collins class submarine project as well which was why it was on the Projects of Concern list,” he said.
“It is a real feather in the capabilities for Defence that it has come off the Projects of Concern list. It probably could have come off earlier.”
Collins was branded “dud sub” in a tabloid newspaper headline as problems emerged in the late 1990s.
Those problems were progressively fixed but the Collins fleet then faced problems with sustainment which meant at times as few as one boat was available for operations.
The project was added to the Projects of Concern list in November 2008, an early addition to the “shame file” of defence procurement projects which required intensive remediation to get back on track.
Mr Pyne said the latest report indicated Collins sustainment and maintenance was now at international best practice, in fact among the best in the world.
“Collins class is the regionally superior submarine. It’s always been a very effective submarine. It has had a bad reputation but quite unfairly,” he said.
The Minister also announced a planned $540 million enhancement of the Collins onboard systems which will assist with the life of type extension.
That’s to be done in two projects, the first worth $214 million addressing obsolescence issues in the control system to allow safe operation of the submarines. The second, worth $326 million, upgrades satellite communications with super high frequency and extremely high frequency systems.
As well Mr Pyne announced a $148 million contract for upgrading of the Australian CEA phased array radars on the Anzac frigates. That will involve production of a new air search radar, known as the CEAFAR2-L and is part of the larger $400 million program to modify the ships and integrate the radars.
“The air search radar upgrade will ensure Defence is able to adapt to modern and evolving air and missile threats and maintain a capability edge for the life of the Anzac class,” he said.
CEAFAR has been designated as the prime radar sensor for the nine Future Frigates, with the government announcing on Tuesday the ships would also be equipped with the US Lockheed Martin Aegis combat management system and Australian tactical interface developed by Saab Australia.
Mr Pyne said now that had been announced, further contracts would soon follow.
Integrating these disparate systems presents a considerable challenge but Mr Pyne said he had been advised it was complicated but achievable.
The Minister declared there was growing excitement in the community about the government’s defence industry plans.
“It makes me extremely proud to see the work going on. I also get asked about it a great deal in the supermarket aisles, the schools and streets where I talk with the people of my own electorate. There is a genuine buzz about it all,” he said.
“People in the street may not know the ins and outs of the White Paper, the Naval Shipbuilding Plan or the Integrated Investment Plan, but they can spot something that promises so much for them, their community and their country.”