|Patrick Walters, National security editor | November 07, 2008
AUSTRALIA'S new navy chief supports a larger next-generation submarine fleet, but not at the expense of highly capable surface warships.
As the navy begins planning to build a next-generation submarine in Australia, Vice-Admiral Russ Crane said submarines would remain at the core of the nation's long-term maritime defence.
The Rudd Government's new defence white paper, due early next year, is expected to outline the rationale for a fleet of up to 12 new submarines to replace the Collins fleet after 2020.
They are expected to be equipped with long-range cruise missiles, more sophisticated sensors and air-independent propulsion systems for long-range missions.
"I strongly support an increase in submarine numbers and believe we will solve the manning issues some believe would prevent us from realising an increased capability," Admiral Crane told the Submarine Institute of Australia yesterday. "But I am not in favour of increasing submarine numbers if it is at the expense of a balanced force.
"Our surface ship numbers have declined and I think that the historical low of 12 frigates and destroyers today and 11 in the future is the absolute minimum we should fall to."
He said the surface fleet was below the ideal level of capability for the "full span of maritime operations", but added he did not want to see a "tribal argument" between surface ships and submarines.
Admiral Crane acknowledged that the navy would need a large submarine capable of long-range missions and conceded it would be difficult to find an off-the-shelf solution from countries operating diesel electric submarines.
Last month, the Rudd Government announced funding of $4.67 million to conduct initial studies on the Collins's replacement, and how a program to build the submarines in Australia might be supported.