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Australian Defense Minister Doesn’t Trust Shipbuilder ASC ‘To Build a Canoe’

Australian Defense Minister David Johnston via Sydney Morning Herald

Australian Defense Minister David Johnston via Sydney Morning Herald

Australian Defense Minister David Johnston blasted state-owned shipbuilder ASC (formerly known as Australian Submarine Corporation) following reported cost overruns of the Royal Australian Navy’s new class of guided missile destroyers on Tuesday, according to local press reports.

“You wonder why I’m worried about ASC and wonder what they’re delivering the Australian taxpayer? You wonder why I wouldn’t trust them to build a canoe?,” Johnston said before the Australian Senate.

The comments come follow reported cost over runs and production delays of the RAN’s three Hobart-class destroyers, currently under construction at ASC’s yard in Southern Australia.

The $7.4 billion program will deliver the first ship Hobart in 2016 about two years late.

However, according to a Tuesday report in Jane’s Defence Weekly, the current construction program is $683.28 million over budget and the costs are increasing.

Johnston’s comments come at a sensitive time for ASC. There is intense pressure on the Australian Ministry of Defense — and the government writ large — to build the upcoming replacement for the RAN’s six aging Collins-class diesel attack submarines (SSK).

Royal Australian Navy Collins-class submarine HMAS Sheean (SSG-77) near the Sydney Opera House. RAN Photo

Royal Australian Navy Collins-class submarine HMAS Sheean (SSG-77) near the Sydney Opera House. RAN Photo

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National pledged to build the submarines in Australia but the government has downplayed the pledge.

“On 12 November Johnston told a Submarine Institute of Australia conference that Australia did not currently have a complete submarine design or production engineering capability, and pointedly avoided any reference as to where the Future Submarine might be built,” reported Jane’s.

Reports in September indicated Australia was interested in acquiring 10 to 12 Japanese Soryu-class SSKs after Japan loosened restrictions on military export.

Since the initial reports, Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, France’s DCNS and Sweden’s Saab have since pitched their individual SSK designs.
Early reaction to the comments by ASC workers has been negative.

“It’s not a great feeling to have your Defence Minister, you’re out there doing your best job for the country and he’s trashing you,” ASC pipe fitter Andrew Daniels told Australia’s ABC News.

  • Rob C.

    Pretty tough spot for the workers, but there something broken if cost keeping going up and designs keep having issues. Collin’s inability to intercept the Russian task force though wasn’t on shipyard, they’re on the government for not building enough bases to run them from.

    • They also benchmarked ASC’s productivity against global norms, and found it was really low.

      Submarines are much more complex builds than destroyers, and they’re also Australia’s future naval centerpiece. So there’s no strategic leeway to screw up. They have no other option than ASC for submarine maintenance, which must be kept in-country. That isn’t in question. But they need to retire the Collins Class subs on time or early. They can’t afford to have ASC try, overspend by billions, and then be without working submarines because ASC is late. The Collins Class itself is hardly an advertisement.

      The challenge is keeping ASC around without bleeding too many skilled workers, assuming the government doesn’t want to just shrink military shipbuilding and rely on BAE, Forgacs, et. al. The future SEA 5000 ASW frigates are expected to be based on the same hull ASC is building for the Hobart Class Aegis air-defense ships, so ASC could end up with those. The question is how to cover the gap before the ASW frigates are ordered, and after the Hobart Class is done. Does Australia even want to?

      A lot of moving parts involved here.

  • gmhendo

    Boggles my mind to think they would even think about buying conventional powered subs. If you are chasing down a nuclear powered ship, the diesel runs out of puff very quickly. It lacks speed and endurance needed to pursue nuclear ships of interest.

    Why even consider diesel power, never mind who builds them?

    • Falconer375

      Not so hard to understand when you consider even with the largest uranium deposits in the world that there is just not the public support or political for that matter for the ADF (Australian Defence Force) to possess anything nuclear related. None of Australia’s power generation is nuclear derived either.

    • Because they looked at the cost of instantiating a maintained-in-Australia nuclear capability, and it was billions and billions. They’d be building it up from a zero base: zero civil, zero military. On top of being a huge political headache. So, SSKs it is.

      But yeah, you run into real range and coverage limitations with SSKs, as their inability to cover the recent Russian task force showed. Adding basing in the north and east for submarines would help, even if the far western base remains Australia’s submarine hub.

  • Mick

    Australia should lease or buy the US Virginia class nuclear submarines, fuel supply lasts the full life of the submarine no need for Australia nuclear power development. If they don’t want to buy US take a look at France’s Barracuda class nuclear submarines.