20 Februari 2012
The Collins class submarine HMAS Rankin. (photo : The Age)
BY THE time Australia's newest Collins class submarine returns to service in September or October next year the vessel will have been laid up for repairs and maintenance for longer than it has been in use.
A Senate estimates hearing has been told HMAS Rankin was pulled out of service in 2008 because a crew could not be found. Commissioned 41 months late on March 29, 2003, the vessel was not due for a full cycle docking until March 2011.
It was subsequently cannibalised for parts during work on its sister subs, including HMAS Sheean - the second youngest of the troubled Collins class fleet - and HMAS Dechaineux.
The Sheean was also sent to Adelaide for repairs well ahead of schedule in 2008.
''[Rankin and Sheean went in early] largely because of our manpower situation,'' The Chief of Navy, Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs, told the estimates hearing.
It was, in short, more palatable to have the billion-dollar submarines in Adelaide awaiting maintenance than languishing at Garden Island in Perth advertising the crew shortage.
The Sheean is now three years into a 900,000 man-hour, $200 million-plus maintenance regime.
Defence experts told the hearing the submarine was back in the water and undergoing testing. ''We envisage [HMAS Sheean] will be out [of its deep maintenance period] by the middle of the year,'' Air Vice-Marshal Chris Deeble said.
He said the current cost of a full cycle docking for a Collins class submarine varied between $200 million and $220 million.
The Dechaineux was involved in a dramatic incident on February 12, 2003, which led to all Collins class submarines at sea being recalled for safety checks.
Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston was critical of the Collins class sustainment program, noting he had been given cost estimates ranging from $435 million to $629 million a year. ''When you throw in depreciation [on top of the $629 million] you get $821 million,'' he said.