Germany’s U-boat submarines posed a potent naval threat to the Allies in the Second World War, whilst the United States gained a naval superiority over Japan with their submarine fleet.
Defence advisors fear the vulnerability of surface naval vessels, particularly unwieldy aircraft carriers, from air attack. Hence the attraction of a submarine fleet potentially able to hide undetected in the depths of the ocean for up to 10 months and an operating range of 12,000 nautical miles. Australia is to manufacture 12 of the nuclear attack French Barracuda-class submarines in Adelaide. It will be designed by ship-builder Direction des Constructions Navales Services (DCNS) and employ 2800, and cost us $50 billion. It will strengthen Australia’s submarine capability from 2030 when delivery of the first is expected.
Six Collins-class submarines were built in Adelaide by the Australian Submarine Corporation between 1990 and 2003 to replace the old Oberon submarines, under the guidance of Swedish submarine manufacturer Kockums. They incorporated innovative new features such as an integrated combat data system (CDS) to activate the submarine’s weapons in response to sensor detected data.
Few Defence acquisitions have been more criticized than these submarines, on the basis of operational deficiencies including inadequate sound minimization, and features that were out-dated by the time the vessels were commissioned.
Manufacturers of submarines and anti-submarines must engage in an intense technology battle for advantage in the deadly serious game of Hide and Seek. The costs are horrendous for both acquisition and operation but to this barrier must be added the recruitment and training of skilled personnel able and willing to operate such complex equipment.
Deeply concerning for the Australian government is the news released just a month ago (August 24) of a massive leak of many of the design features of the Scorpene submarines DCNS is building for India. This must significantly diminish their potential strike effectiveness not only for India but also for Malaysia and Chile, countries that are already using them, and for Brazil which takes delivery in 2018.
History proves that there was never a war that ended wars. Unfortunately, scientific advances in warfare just increase the human misery and devastation we all abhor. Will indeed we be able to defend our country with what we hope are superior weapons, against stronger foes?
Then too, can we afford to spend $50 billion for what may be just a temporary military ascendancy? Especially when we have a $400 billion foreign debt, and must otherwise reduce welfare benefits to the hardship of some.
It is not too late to reconsider our priorities.