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Future Submarine Program Must Switch from Nuclear to Conventional AIP

26 April 2022

Independent Senator Rex Patrick has called for a new Labor Government or a re-elected Coalition Government to abandon Scott Morrison's flawed and irresponsible nuclear submarine scheme and switch the program to an air-independent, conventionally powered, off-the-shelf design, built in South Australia and enhanced by Australian industry.

"We need a new submarine capability in the water in 2026, not in 2040," Senator Patrick said.

"We need to be building submarines in Adelaide starting in 2024, not contracting foreign shipyards in 2034. We need to be spending $20 billion on 20 highly capable submarines, not a bankrupting $171B on 8 nuclear-powered submarines."

“We can’t afford to allow this bathtub admiral’s nuclear fantasy to go any further.” 

"There is an alternative way forward, and we should take that sensible, prudent course without further delay."

“In October 2018 I called for the Attack class program to be stopped on account of it being the wrong solution. If the Coalition Government had listened back then we would not have seen $5.5 billion of taxpayer's dollars wasted and 3 years of valuable time. I was right back then and I’m right again now. The nuclear-powered option is another procurement disaster in the making.”

"The current Government program to deliver a nuclear submarine in 2040 is just too late. We’ve got tension between China and Taiwan now. We’ve got Chinese warships regularly watching ‘Talisman Sabre’ war-games off the coast of Queensland. We just had an RAAF surveillance plane lit up by a laser from a Chinese warship transiting the Arafura Sea. And it now looks like the Chinese will soon have a regular, if not permanent, presence in the Solomon Islands. The Chinese are not waiting until 2040.”

"The current program will ruin our sovereign capability and deal a huge blow to SA’s defence industrial base. The Prime Minister is already softening the ground for what will be portrayed as a ’change of circumstance’. Our future nuclear submarines will not be built in Adelaide as promised. This will be a retrograde step, not just from the exporting of $170 billion of taxpayers’ dollars or thousands of jobs, but from a national security perspective too. The sustainment of Collins class submarines in SA is now a world class operation with 90% of the work carried out here. We can't afford to lose this sort of sovereign capability."

"The current program will blow the budget. The high end estimate of cost, which the Defence Department always seems to hit, for eight nuclear-powered submarines is $171 billion. At $100 billion the program would be unaffordable. The likely cost is well beyond unaffordable. With a massive post-Covid government debt and a finite defence budget, spending this much means that other much needed Defence capabilities will not be acquired.”

“I get that nuclear submarines are very capable. As a former submariner and having spent time at sea on the nuclear USS Santa Fe, I get it more than any other member of the Federal Parliament”

“But I also understand the capabilities of modern hydrogen fuel cell submarines. I helped commission both the Greek and South Korean, German-designed, locally built Type 214 class submarines. Conventional submarines have achieved everything we have needed in the past and they will do so in the future too. Modern conventional submarines have ranges greater than Collins submarines and can operate for significant periods in operational areas without the need to run noisy diesels, as the Collins have to do.”

“For Scott Morrison to state that conventional submarines will not survive in a modern operational environment says that the countries of Germany, Spain, Turkey, Greece, Sweden, Japan, South Korea, Singapore are all wrong. Like we have seen on many occasions, the Prime Minister is wrong.”

“It doesn’t matter how good the pros of a nuclear submarine are if it arrives too late, costs too much and undermines sovereign capability; then it’s the wrong solution.”

“Australia needs new submarines. When the future submarine project kicked off in 2009 the focus was on the South China Sea and the Chinese Navy weren’t projecting their Navy into our region. But we now need to be focus on a capability that defends us closer to home and is available soon, not two decades from now.”

“Australia needs to select an off-the-shelf, conventional air-independent-propulsion submarine.”

“We should take an up-to-date working design and build that submarine here; and then use Australian industry to enhance it. We could see welding equipment working at Osborne in 2024 and our first new submarine in the water by 2026. We could have 20 conventionally-powered submarines for $20 billion, and $150 billion available to spend on other much needed Defence capability.”

"That's what we need to do – for the sake of national security, for the sake of Australian industry and for the sake of the Australian taxpayer. 

“It’s also foolish to build the AUKUS relationship on the program that won’t deliver a vital capability when it’s needed. A much broader Defence technology cooperation program can deliver greater benefits for all three countries than the narrow focus on nuclear-propulsion.” 

“Whoever forms the next Government needs to abandon Scott Morrison’s foolish scheme and switch to a program that will deliver more capability quickly at much lower cost.”