Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Australia's $50 billion submarine project still dogged by uncertainty

John Kerin/Financial Review
17 June 2015
The uncertainty over the Abbott government's $50 billion new submarine project has only deepened since the announcement of a much-criticised competitive evaluation process.
On the surface three contenders – Japan, France and Germany – are vying to build the new fleet as part of a 10-month competitive evaluation process.
Japan-based Kawasaki/Mitsubishi is proposing its 4200-tonne Soryu diesel electric submarine, France-backed DCNS is offering a non-nuclear version of its 4700-tonne Barracuda submarine and Germany is offering its 4000-tonne Type 216.
Australia is after up to 12 submarines larger than the existing Collins class, with greater endurance and firepower.
The competitive evaluation process involving the three bidders was outlined by Defence Minister Kevin Andrews in February, but the process has been plagued by Labor accusations the process is a "sham" and Japan is in the box seat to win.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has expressed a clear preference for the Japanese option, as a means of strengthening defence and security ties between the two countries and amid fears over China's sabre-rattling over its territorial disputes.
Germany has been stressing that not only does it have the export experience but there isn't the political risk in buying from Europe that there is in buying from Japan, given its rivalry with China.

Backed away

A furore over whether the submarines will be built in South Australia has also plagued the project since the government backed away from a pre-election promise to build the new fleet in Adelaide.
"I would agree that because the facilities exist in South Australia at the ASC site that the infrastructure and the workforce is the only current workforce that could assemble the submarine [but] whether it is the right place to assemble a new design is up for question," said David Gould, general manager submarines of the Defence Materiel Organisation.
South Australian Defence Teaming Centre chief executive Chris Burns said if Japan was chosen most of the work could go to Western Australia, where lighter maintenance is carried out, rather than the overhauls carried out in Adelaide because Japanese submarines had a shorter lifespan.
Defence officials also admitted winning the competitive evaluation process didn't mean the winner would get the contract.
The admission came after independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon brought up a previous example where a bidder for a submarine system on the current Collins class submarines had been successful in a competitive evaluation process only to be over-ruled by the federal cabinet.
Japan has also been muddying the waters, with the former commander of the Japanese submarine fleet Masao Kobayashi expressing doubts the submarines could be built in the Adelaide shipyards.
Captain Hisayuki Tamura, of the Japanese Ministry of Defence, insisted Japan had the best technology to build the submarines but another former Japanese submarine commander, Captain Toshihide Yamamuchi, expressed concern that if Japan shared its most sensitive technology with Australia, China might try to steal it.

Captain's pick

Labor's defence spokesman Stephen Conroy said Mr Abbott has already made Japan his "captain's pick" and the "fix is in".
Mr Xenophon, who has campaigned tirelessly for the submarines to be built in Adelaide, said German and French submarine builders used "high-yield steel similar to that cited by the Japanese and have exported to other countries the skills and expertise to enable local submarine fabrication".
Mr Xenophon accused the Japanese of offering "excuses to have $50 billion worth of Australian taxpayers' money spent almost entirely in Japan".
Defence Minister Kevin Andrews continues to insist the competitive evaluation process will be a fair and equitable process that will treat the bidders fairly.
The government has appointed an expert panel to oversee the process, including Professor Donald Winter, who was co-author of a report into the troubled $8 billion air warfare destroyer project, former Federal Court justice Julie Anne Dodds-Streeton, infrastructure specialist Ron Finlay and former BAE Australia chief executive Jim McDowell.
Mr Andrews said "significant work will be undertaken in Australia during the build phase of the submarine, including combat systems integration, design assurance and land-based testing". 

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