Pacific Marine Batteries CEO Steve Faulkner in the defence company's Adelaide facility with a giant Collins-class submarine battery (photo : The Australian)
THE head of Australia's submarine company has urged the Coalition to support the federal government's commitment to build a new fleet in Australia, to avoid a strategic capability gap.
ASC managing director Steve Ludlam said the $214 million committed by the Gillard government for early-stage design work was crucial to ensuring the submarines would be built in time to take over from the ailing Collins fleet.
He also said buying an overseas pre-fabricated submarine that would be suitable for Australian waters was not possible.
"I hope that if there is a change of government they would follow the commitment that has been delivered," said Mr Ludlam, the former head of Rolls-Royce Submarines in Britain.
SA-based Pacific Marine Batteries has spent more than $1 million on research and development in anticipation of providing power for the next generation of submarines.
Chief executive Steve Faulkner was hopeful an Australian-built fleet will allow the development of an advanced version of his company's 440-tonne battery, currrently used in the Navy's Collins Class boats.
The government has announced that it will build the new fleet in South Australia, regardless of whether the final design is a military off-the-shelf design, or an Australian model.
However, opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey has said the government should not rule out overseas construction of the submarines.
And he has indicated that a Coalition government would consider a cheaper, pre-made vessel.
"Either that's $200m that is going to be wasted or else the government is going to have a proper analysis of whether there are alternatives to having these submarines manufactured in Australia," Mr Hockey told ABC radio.
Mr Ludlam said the difference between an off-the-shelf and an Australian-designed model would be up to $8 billion.
"Whichever design it is, the vast majority of the build work will be done here," he said. He also warned that a submarine designed for northern hemisphere waters would be unlikely to meet the Australian navy's requirements. "To take the off-the-shelf solution -- I don't think that actually exists," he said.
"There is an enormous amount of design work involved in a submarine that comes from Europe to bring it to Australian standards."
The government stepped up its attack on the Coalition's position yesterday, with Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare labelling Mr Hockey the "grim reaper" of the defence industry.
"The opposition, the Liberal Party, haven't committed to 12 submarines, they haven't committed to any submarines at all, they haven't committed to do it in Adelaide," Mr Clare said.