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Ministerial indecision blamed for sub burden

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Analysts predict taxpayers will spend billions of dollars to keep the troubled Collins class submarine fleet afloat into the 2030s, blaming a succession of defence ministers who haven't made a decision on a replacement.

The first Collins class boats are due to be decommissioned around 2025 and the plan called for a replacement to have been designed, built and successfully tested by then.

This just isn't going to happen. Rear-Admiral Rowan Moffitt, the head of the future submarine program, has said an Australian designed and built submarine won't be ready until 2032 at the earliest.

One analyst, who has examined the timeline Admiral Moffitt spelt out at the Seapower conference in Sydney this week, says 2035 is a more likely date. Another, who argues Admiral Moffitt may be being conservative, believes a locally designed and built submarine could be ready for sea trials by 2029.

Both have pinned the blame for the ''schedule slip'' on the Government's failure to get the ball rolling.

Submarine Institute of Australia vice-president Frank Owen said, ''We should have been doing what we are doing now at least three years ago.''

Andrew Davies, a senior analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the delays were ''due to decisions not being made by government - but, on the other hand, I don't believe the quality of information needed to make a decision has been available.''

That point is moot however.

''The Government has not made obtaining that information a priority,'' he said.

Mr Owen and Mr Davies agree there is no way the Collins fleet could be operational into the 2030s in its current form.

Mr Davies said, ''It will definitely require a midlife upgrade.''

Both men concur the investment required would be substantial. ''Likely well over a billion dollars,'' Mr Davies said.

The Collins has been dogged by propulsion system problems for decades.

''When Admiral Moffitt gave his speech he referred to some problems that had been designed in [to Collins],'' Mr Davies said. ''The engines are one of those.''

Issues with the diesels are two fold; Hedemora - the manufacturer - stopped making engines in the 1990s.

''They were effectively the last of the previous generation of naval diesels - and they were heavily modified,'' Mr Davies said.

He said the problems with the engines are such they need to be replaced. This could be done in conjunction with the future submarine project. Technology developed for the Collins could then be applied to the new class of submarines.

Mr Owen said a midlife upgrade could also reduce the ever-increasing operating cost of the Collins class boats.

''There is a view that a lack of upgrades in the past is one of the reasons they are costing so much to operate now,'' he said.

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