Vice Admiral Stephen Johnson was commander of the USS Chicago attack submarine.Staff, The Australian
29 October 2015
A former US submarine commander with extensive experience running complex construction prog-rams has been called in to manage Australia's biggest defence project, theselection and build of the navy's new submarine fleet.
The bungled political handling of the multi-billion-dollar project by Tony Abbott's government played a significant part in the instability that led to the switch to Malcolm Turnbull, however, it has also handed the new Prime Minister a serious headache amid persistent claims the Coalition plans to break an election promise to build 12 submarines in South Australia.
The Australian has been told Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson and Australian Defence Force chief Mark Binskin informed staff yesterday that, after an extensive recruitment search in Australia and globally, Stephen Johnson, a retired US Navy rear admiral, had been appointed general manager, submarines.
Rear Admiral Johnson was chosen because of his extensive experience running large hi-tech projects including development of the revolutionary Seawolf class submarine for the US Navy.
His last seagoing role was as commander of the Los Angeles Class nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Chicago.
In the US Navy, he served as director in charge of undersea technology in Naval Sea Systems Command and as commander of the Undersea Warfare Centre.
In Australia, Rear Admiral Johnson will oversee the competitive evaluation process to chose the new submarine from design options submitted by companies from Japan, France and Germany, and also the sustainment of the six existing Collins-class submarines.
In reality, all three contenders have said they are willing to build all or some of the submarines in Australia. Indications are that the government will opt for eight to 12 new boats.
Mr Turnbull yesterday sought to extract himself from the promise to build 12 new submarines in South Australia, as he made his first prime ministerial visit to the state.
Asked on ABC Radio if the pledge was "a lie, a misleading -impression or a bent untruth", the Prime Minister said he was "not going to go back into the archeology of what was said" before the last election.
"I didn't make that statement; all I can say to you is watch this space. I am very committed to having a substantial defence -industry here in Australia," Mr Turnbull said.
The Prime Minister said later that the question of building eight or 12 new subs was addressed in the defence white paper to be -released "in due course".
Adelaide-based shipbuilder ASC yesterday said that it would cut about 45 permanent tradies from the Air Warfare Destroyer Project by the end of the year.
ASC's interim chief executive, Mark Lamarre, said further cuts were likely and, until decisions were made on where new warships, the Future Frigate and Offshore Patrol Vessels, would be built, and when, it was not possible to maintain the current number of staff.
ASC has cut 300 jobs since May, mostly subcontractors, but still has about 2600 fulltime workers.
Independent South Australian senator Nick Xenophon said -recent events in the South China Sea showed the region becoming more volatile and anything fewer than 12 submarines built in Australia, ensuring jobs with a continuous build, would not protect Australia's national and strategic interest. "Right now we have a situation where 45 permanent jobs will be lost by the end of this year at the ASC . This is something that could have been completely avoidable,'' he said.