Instead of boosting Australia’s defensive strength the Federal Government’s deal, to build a billion-dollar fleet of submarines, may be sunk before the first one even hits the water.
Critics say the submarines, designed and partially built in Adelaide by French company Naval Group, could be obsolete before their launch over three decades starting in 2030.
The criticism further inflames public opinion which was bitterly divided over the benefits of the deal announced by then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2016, whose government overlooked competing bids from Germany and Japan to build the 12 submarines.
Now critics are saying that instead of being world class – the Attack class submarines might not be the best when they are launched because of doubts about the batteries being used.
“By the time (the first submarine) hits the water in the early 2030s, it’s going to be obsolete,” veteran military analyst Derek Woolner told the ABC.
A report by Woolner, and his research colleague, David Glynne Jones, says Australia’s Defence Department should urgently embrace cutting-edge lithium-ion battery propulsion for the submarines.
They say other countries are building boats with lithium-ion battery propulsion, which provides higher speeds and allows the submarines to spend more time underwater.
Woolner, a former government advisor, said the Attack class submarines would be built with a heavy metal main battery, under the contract signed with the Naval Group company.
“A number of countries in the region are already proceeding to build boats around lithium-ion batteries that promise something like five to six times the submerged stealthy performance and a great deal more high-speed performance than you can get from a lead-acid battery submarine,” Mr Woolner said.
Their report concludes that Australia’s objective for the $50 billion Attack class program to produce a “regionally superior” submarine is “now under challenge”.
Mr Woolner told the ABC that the Defence Department must act quickly.
“I would like to see the Defence Force invest in this at a very early stage, to overcome the obsolescence problem that’s going to face the Future Submarine before it even gets into naval service.”
Responding to the criticism, a Defence Department statement said lithium-ion battery technology was unproven.
“The Attack class will be a new design optimised as a conventionally-powered submarine that meets our unique capability requirements,” Defence said in a statement.
“Lithium-ion battery is a new technology and is yet to be fully proven at sea.
“During the design of the Attack class submarine, Defence continues to make informed decisions on technology and the risks going forward. “Over the acquisition program for 12 submarines, Defence has the opportunity to introduce new technologies to the future submarine fleet as they demonstrate their ability to meet our needs.”