24 Juni 2013

Two Subs Out of Action for Six Years

24 Juni 2013

HMAS Rankin and HMAS Collins have been out of action while undergoing maintenance in Adelaide (photo : DMO)

TWO of navy's six Collins-class submarines will be out service for more than six years under the Gillard government's new maintenance regime.

HMAS Rankin and HMAS Collins have been out of action while undergoing maintenance in Adelaide, and will be returned to the Royal Australian Navy much later than the present three-year deadlines. The Rankin is the youngest submarine in the fleet yet it has been docked since 2008. It will not be released by shipbuilder ASC until the middle of next year at the earliest. The Collins is the fleet's oldest and has been at the ASC facility in Adelaide since last August. It will not be released until 2018.

A Defence spokeswoman said no other ships in the fleet were out of the water.

Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston said the government was conducting a "smoke-and-mirrors" exercise on how the maintenance of submarines affected their availability for service.

"It really does take a forensic detective to work out which way they are moving on this," Senator Johnston said. "On their numbers, this boat (the Collins) is out of the water for six years.

"This announcement is a smoke-and-mirrors exercise that completely exposes the continued failure of this minister to get to grips with cost-effective sustainment of submarines."

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said last week that changes to the fleet's maintenance cycle, to take effect from next year, "will improve Collins-class availability" by reducing the time each submarine spends in dock. Under the changes, each submarine would be docked for two out of every 12 years, which Mr Smith said would allow three or four submarines to be ready for service at any given time. The submarines are presently scheduled for docking three years out of 11.

But Mr Smith said HMAS Collins would not be released for service until mid-2018, despite it having already spent nearly a year out of water.

Last year, Defence had said that the "full-cycle docking" -- where major maintenance work is undertaken -- would begin on the Collins in February. This was pushed back until July 1, before Mr Smith announced last week it would not start the two-year full cycle docking until 2016.

In February, Defence had told a Senate committee that the Collins was scheduled to leave ASC in May 2016. But that also has been pushed back by two years, according to Mr Smith.

A report by British specialist John Coles, commissioned by Mr Smith and delivered last year, said the submarines' poor operational record -- one of the worst in the world -- was caused by issues such as a failure to carry out sufficient and timely preventive maintenance and inefficiencies leading to shortages of spare parts.

A spokesman for ASC said the changes to the maintenance cycles announced last week would result in greater availability of the submarines to the navy, although it differed slightly from what had been recommended in a review of the fleet's use.

"It's been adopted and implemented in a different way to that which the Coles review recommended but it is a method of implementation which is supported by ASC, supported by navy and supported by Defence," the spokesman said. "So that will see, in the longer term, greater availability of our Collins-class submarines, which is welcome."

(The Australian)

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