14 Mei 2011
Collins class submarine (photo : Naval Technology)
RETIRING Navy chief Vice-Admiral Russ Crane has issued a last-minute plea to the Government to build up to 12 new submarines in Australia.
And he wants the mining industry to stop poaching his highly skilled, taxpayer-funded technical staff.
Vice-Admiral Crane will leave Defence headquarters next month after a 41-year Navy career and three years in the top job, and he hopes that Australians can better understand the strategic value of submarines to the nation's defence.
In an interview with the Herald Sun, he said that despite their problems, the Adelaide-built Collins class subs provided an important technology and skills base for the nation that should be used to create 12 new-generation, bigger and more complex conventionally powered subs.
"We have proven with Collins that we can build submarines in Australia," he said.
"Why go backwards?"
What he means by backwards is an overseas-built "off-the-shelf" option at a lower cost than the bigger home-built boats.
That plan has many supporters outside the Navy.
Vice-Admiral Crane said Australia's geographic circumstances were very different to other countries that operated submarines.
"To get from fleet base West (Perth) to fleet base East (Sydney) is the same distance as London to New York. You can fit Europe inside Australia so our submarines ... have a specific need for things like range, endurance and capability," he said.
"Many of the off-the-shelf options don't offer us anything like the capability we need because of our geographic circumstances.
"What is the cost-capability trade-off?"
His predecessor, Vice-Admiral Russ Shalders, lost the "cost versus capability" argument over new destroyers.
Vice-Admiral Crane said he hoped to have four fully qualified submarine crews and three boats on line by the end of the year.
"My technical people are very attractive to outside industry so I have got to pay attention to that," he said.
"We are on track for a fourth crew."
He aims to have two subs at short notice to move, a third at longer notice and a fourth in scheduled maintenance.s
"We are not quite there yet but we are getting there."
At present two boats are at sea, one is in scheduled short-term maintenance and one is in unscheduled maintenance.