|Faulkner orders review into Collins class submarine fleet
UPDATED: Patrick Walters, National security editor | October 21, 2009
Article from: The Australian
DEFENCE Minister John Faulkner has ordered a review into the operational availability of the RAN's Collins class submarines, conceding that technical issues affecting their performance are a major concern for the government.
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"Submarine platform availability remains a major concern," Senator Faulkner said.
"Submarines are a critical component of the ADF’s force structure and they perform a wide range of tasks. The government places a very high priority on ensuring that this capability is effective."
Senator Faulkner said he would not comment in the detailed operational availability of the Collins boats for security reasons.
But he said the DMO review had already recommended some significant organisational changes which were now being implemented, including increased DMO management oversight and scheduling input at ASC in Adelaide, and improved logistic support for both operational submarines and those in long-term maintenance.
The Navy will also place senior personnel in Adelaide to work alongside the DMO and ASC.
"Significant improvement to submarine availability is vital for the submarine capability, and particularly to Navy’s ability to grow the submarine workforce," Senator Faulkner said.
"Like any complex piece of equipment, some unexpected issued and defects occasionally occur that require repairs to be undertaken out side of routine maintenance cycles."
"While the current situation is far from ideal, their timely maintenance and repair is vitally important. The safety of the men and women serving aboard them is a paramount consideration."
Senator Faulkner said three Collins class boats were currently crewed and in various stages of operating in maintenance cycles. Two of these three boats were in routine maintenance and the other was at ASC for an urgent defect repair.
"The remaining three are awaiting longer term docking cycles which involved major overhauls and refurbishment by the original manufacturer, ASC," Senator Faulkner said.
The Australian reported today that the navy's $6 billion Collins-class submarines face serious operational restrictions after being hit by a run of crippling mechanical problems and troubling maintenance issues.
Some senior engineering experts now contend that the Swedish-supplied Hedemora diesel engines may have to be replaced - a major design and engineering job that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take years to complete.
So serious are the problems that the Defence Materiel Organisation has put the Collins boats at the top of its list of "projects of concern" - the key equipment issues troubling Australia's Defence leaders.
The Australian understands that in recent times only a single Collins-class boat has been available for operational duties but it is unclear whether this involves more than extended training missions.
Senior Defence leaders are also vitally concerned about the productivity and efficiency of ASC, the Adelaide-based wholly government-owned builder and maintainer of the Collins class.
One senior Defence source characterises the level of concern in senior government ranks about the availability of the Collins submarines as "extreme".
In the recent defence white paper, Kevin Rudd announced that the government would double the size of the RAN's submarine fleet from six to 12 when it came to replacing the Collins-class boats from 2025.
"If you can't do this right, how do you do the next one," observed one senior Defence source last night.
"We spend a lot of money on this core defence capability and they aren't working properly."
Defence Minister John Faulkner and Defence Materiel Minister Greg Combet have now demanded monthly updates from the navy and Defence about the operational state of the Collins-class vessels.
ASC, the Adelaide-based builder and maintainer of the Collins class, is now working through a range of mechanical issues affecting the performance of the six submarines with the state of the diesel engines a fundamental concern.
The trouble-plagued diesel engines are expected to last at least another 15 to 20 years before they are progressively replaced by the planned next-generation submarine from 2025.
While ASC believes they can still last the expected life-of-type and has called in a Swiss consultan