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No submarine capability gap for Australia, SEA 1000 chief insists

naval_group2The head of the Future Submarine program has rejected the notion that Australia is facing a submarine capability gap.

Aiming to deliver the first Future Submarine in the early 2030s represents “a reasonable schedule”, said Rear Admiral Gregory Sammut, Head Future Submarine Program at Defence’s Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG).

Meanwhile, the life of the Royal Australian Navy’s Collins class submarines can be extended so that they remain a useful capability in the medium term, he said.

“We have done studies that have been peer-reviewed by the United States to ensure that Collins can be extended – and it can – and that capability is well within the capacity of ASC today, which has its role in sustaining the Collins class,” RADM Sammut said at a media briefing on Tuesday at Pacific 2017.

A report from consulting firm Insight Economics that was commissioned by the website Submarines for Australia argues that Australia is heading for “a very serious capability gap of several years”.

And it recommends that six off-the-shelf submarines should be acquired, instead of extending the Collins class – an idea that RADM Sammut dismissed.

“We are going to have to extend some of the Collins fleet,” RADM Sammut said.

“We are determining the numbers of submarines that will need to be extended, and there will be a number of factors that go into that consideration. However, the planning is well underway to do that extension.

“We plan to do that through the normal course of full-cycle dockings that we currently use to maintain the Collins fleet.”

The cost of the life-of-type extension is yet to be determined, but RADM Sammut rejected the $15 billion price-tag cited in the Insight Economics report.

Defence is looking to improve the fleet’s communications and sonar systems, and upgrade the combat system, in addition to maintaining the Collins submarines.

As for the Future Submarine, the ‘pre-design freeze’ was achieved last month, meaning the key parameters of the submarine – such as its length and diameter – have been set.

This is “an extremely critical step in the process of designing the submarine”, explained Jean-Michel Billig, Naval Group executive director for the Future Submarine program, speaking at the media briefing.

Combat system integrator Lockheed Martin Australia has conducted industry briefings in six capital cities around Australia, with a seventh to be held in the coming weeks, where it has interviewed more than 960 companies.

“We have started approaching those companies which we believe will be able to be active participants in the activity that we seek, which is to build the combat system for the submarine in Adelaide,” said Vince Di Pietro, vice-president and chief executive of Lockheed Martin Australia & New Zealand.