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Questions about submarines

By Syd Hickman - posted Wednesday, 14 September 2016

There has been a very weird silence about the design phase of our subs, the huge leak of data on the French subs for India, and why Defence set such extreme range parameters and long construction time frame for our subs in the first place.

It now seems to be virtually accepted that the Americans told Tony Abbott to buy Japanese subs (as part of a big US-Japan deal and despite them being not ready to enter a rapid design phase) and Abbott was happy to obey his masters.

Then Turnbull took over and, expressing an independence from the US that nobody has noticed, demanded a real contest. The Japanese were shocked. The Germans had been fully focussed on beating the Japanese while the French used some highly dubious data to claim superiority to the Germans in specific areas related to signature. But the French had also produced some impressive engineering to come up with a great story on how they were going to convert a nuclear sub that is still some years away from launch and testing into a conventional vessel that did fit the design parameters.


That actually building this boat would require miracles no one knew how to perform apparently did not matter.

The German Navy complained about signature data used to compare the theoretical French sub with the old model German sub that was quite different to the sub they were offering, and claims of French superiority based on this comparison. Despite this being apparently important in the selection process the Australians simply dropped that critical comparison but said the decision still stood. It was clear that any further complaining would be considered very unfriendly.

The sub project was sold to the public, particularly in South Australia, as delivering huge employment benefits almost immediately. But the design phase was set at three years and first delivery not expected until the early 2030s. After just a few months, and before any contract was signed, the design phase has been stretched to six years and delivery of first sub pushed well into the 2030s.

Such odd decision-making demands answers but the media had an election and then gay marriage to fret about so who could be bothered about the biggest and weirdest defence contract in Australia's history.

Then came the great leak. The Australian carried the story that someone sent this huge volume of absolutely critical information on vital aspects of the French submarine being built for the Indian Navy. Minister Pine claimed the leak did not matter much as our sub would be quite different by the time it was built. I am told there are very few people in the submarine game who believe this.

There will be modifications, if our sub is ever built, and some aspects will be different, but the basic parameters and underlying technologies do not change between subs built by the same company in the same line of development.


This leak was just as bad for us as it was for India, Malaysia and Brazil. (And it is worth noting Brazil is buying nuclear and conventional subs with no major changes of the kind demanded by Australia.)

According to The Australian, someone sent this leak on a disk to a well known Australian citizen working in Singapore who then did nothing with it for some years and finally handed it over to the Aus journalist before surrendering it to Australian Government authorities.

Canberra insiders know who this person is, and who he now works for. Presumably he is 'helping the police with their inquiries'. Can the story so far really be true? Can it get any more weird?

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About the Author

Syd Hickman has worked as a school teacher, soldier, Commonwealth and State public servant, on the staff of a Premier, as chief of Staff to a Federal Minister and leader of the Opposition, and has survived for more than a decade in the small business world.

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