Showing posts with label submarines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label submarines. Show all posts

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Copy of a blog post of 22 April 2016


ORIGINAL
 
Did Australia take notice of my advice of 2008
about the superior qualities of French submarines?

In my blog post of January 21, 2008 entitled Expensive, aesthetic and nasty [click here], I made an out-of-the-way suggestion: If Australia's armed forces wish to purchase a new fleet of excellent submarines, why don't they examine what France has to offer? At the same time that I made those remarks publicly in my blog, I got into direct contact with Ross Babbage, chairman of the Kokoda Foundation in Canberra. He's the man who actually signed the Kokoda paper #4 of April 2007, which was the main source of the media articles that had presented this submarine affair to the public, as explained in my article of 26 December 2007 entitled Australia's submarines [click here]. Ross Babbage reacted kindly by sending me (airmail to France) a complimentary copy of his report, along with helpful explanations that clarified the situation considerably.

French Barracuda submarine

For the moment, I don't know whether Australia has reached a decision on this question. But I heard yesterday that France is highly placed.

This blog post received a mysterious comment
from an anonymous "Bruce" :

Bruce, April 26, 2016 at 3:41 PM

William, It appears that the Australian government
read your blog and have signed a contract for DCNS
to build 12 submarines for AUD 50 billion.

Copy of a blog post of 21 January 2008


ORIGINAL

 Expensive, aesthetic and nasty

An inspired TV journalist once asked the Dalai Lama: "Can your beliefs in reincarnation and your unbounded respect for all forms of life be reconciled with the case, say, of a mosquito that's intent upon settling on your arm and sucking your blood?" The grinning Dalai Lama said he would try to shoo the creature away. The journalist insisted: "But what if the mosquito fails to go away, because it's determined to bite you?" The Dalai Lama broke into typical laughter and made it clear by a few unmistakable gestures that, in such circumstances, the creature stood a good chance of being squashed to death. I admired the Dalai Lama's suggestion that it's all very well to have lofty principles... but, if an alien creature is attacking you, then it's perfectly normal to exterminate the vicious little bugger. [On the other hand, maybe I totally misunderstood what the wise man was saying.]

I can't say I've ever felt the need to respect religiously all forms of life, because I grew up in an environment where it was quite normal to kill various animals: snakes, rabbits, hens, ducks, etc. It's true, though, that I was overcome by pangs of guilt for several days, at around the age of ten, after having shot an unsuspecting bird with a catapult. [Even today, I remain so marked by that anecdote that I recently wove it into my fictional biography of Master Bruno, the medieval hermit who founded the Carthusian order of Christian monks.] I'm not cynical to the point of saying that rules are made to be broken, but I believe that we have the right—and the obligation, at times—to stretch them to their breaking point... and what the hell if they snap! That's why I like the Dalai Lama's loose attitude towards offensive mosquitoes, as opposed, say, to the dogmatic outlook of many Christian prelates concerning aborted foetuses or human stem cells.

In a neighboring moral domain, I've never been an all-out pacifist, either. For example, I've always been horrified by the alleged "turning the other cheek" principle of Christianity [which, I believe, has rarely been put into regular practice]. If I had been a Christian in one of Rome's martyrdom arenas, I would have used every possible means at my disposal in order to kill the beasts before they killed me.

And that brings me to the subject of the present post: modern machines of destruction. I was happy to see that some privileged Australian military personnel have been undergoing training in France in the context of the purchase by my native land of several Franco-German combat helicopters of the Tiger class. Now, if you haven't seen these diabolical but fascinating beasts in action, you might take a look at the following spectacular video:


Jumping from helicopters to submarines [metaphorically], I feel obliged to add a few remarks concerning the subject I tackled briefly in my article of 2 January 2008 entitled Australian arithmetic [display]. Otherwise, I could be accused of expressing opinions and then leaving them hanging up in the air, without following them right on through. Let me repeat rapidly the essential points of my reflections concerning the high price of Australia's future submarines. The Australian press had announced that our country would be spending 25 billion dollars to build six diesel-powered vessels, and I made the remark that French nuclear-powered combat submarines of the Barracuda class can be purchased for 36% of that outlay: a billion euros per submarine.

At the same time that I made those remarks publicly in my blog, I got into direct contact with Ross Babbage, chairman of the Kokoda Foundation in Canberra. He's the man who actually signed the Kokoda paper #4 of April 2007, which was the main source of the media articles that had presented this submarine affair to the public, as explained in my article of 26 December 2007 entitled Australia's submarines [display]. Ross Babbage reacted kindly by sending me (airmail to France) a complimentary copy of his report, along with helpful explanations that clarify the situation considerably. Here are the precise words on this subject from the Kokoda paper #4:

... simply replacing the Collins Class submarines with a new class of six submarines would probably cost $12-$15 billion. Modernising and adapting Australia's total underwater capabilities to meet the needs of potential defence contingencies in the 2025-2050 timeframe would probably require expenditures in the order of $20-$25 billion.

In other words, we are down to a unit price of $2-$2.5 billion per vessel. Expressed in European currency, that's a unit price between 1.2 and 1.5 billion euros. It's still 20% to 50% more expensive than the ultramodern French nuclear-powered Barracuda submarine, but we're down to sensible figures. Incidentally, the expression "Australia's total underwater capabilities" includes, besides the six future submarines, such costly matters as RAN anti-submarine warfare capabilities and RAAF underwater-surveillance capabilities.

Now, the Antipodes blog is hardly the right place to get deeply involved in affairs of this kind. All I wish to say, by way of a conclusion, is that I was rather surprised by the relatively "lightweight" nature of the Kokoda paper, which is a tiny printed booklet of no more than 64 pages. I had been expecting that the so-called "paper" would be a dense fact-filled report stored, maybe, on a set of DVDs. On the contrary, it skims through the domain of submarines with no attempt whatsoever at attaining depth. Astonishing in the case of a report on submarines...

Copy of a blog post of 26 December 2007


ORIGINAL

 Australia's submarines

It has just been announced that Australia plans to build "the world's most lethal conventional submarine fleet". That curious expression is an example of the propensity to exaggerate whenever Australians talk about Australia. It's a little like referring, say, to "the world's most powerful horse-cavalry division". If foreign navies throughout the world were to reach a gentlemen's agreement with Australia to the effect that only classic diesel-powered submersible vessels would be employed in future underwater conflicts with the Royal Australian Navy, then we would probably be in a relatively comfortable situation. But, if an uncouth enemy were to ignore the rules of the game by using attack submarines of the nuclear-powered SSN class (not to be confused with submarines that actually launch nuclear missiles), then Australia's antiquated SSG models might not be nearly as "deadly" as claimed.

Australia's recent history in the submarine domain, dating from the Bob Hawke era and culminating in the existence of six faulty Australian-made Collins-class vessels, has been catastrophic, from both a financial and a technological viewpoint. Will the situation be better when these old-fashioned mediocre submarines (whose computer systems are off-the-shelf products from Raytheon) are replaced around 2025 by the newer models, to be manufactured by the same shipbuilder?

As an outside observer knowing little about defense strategies in general and submarines in particular, I have the impression that the decision that has just been announced has been largely inspired by the cogitations of an Australian think tank named Kokoda.


For $22 you can even purchase a paper signed by Ross Babbage, dated April 2007, entitled Australia's Future Underwater Operations and System Requirements. Although I haven't yet invested in a copy of this report (and no doubt never will, because I've got more exciting stuff to read), I'm convinced that the decision of the Royal Australian Navy reflects intimately the thinking of the above-named author. So, it would appear to be a blatant case of one-man thinking. What a tank for submarines! Incidentally, at the Kokoda website, the summary of Babbage's report is accompanied by a quaint drawing:


Don't you agree with me that this rudimentary sketch looks like an illustration from an old volume by Jules Verne? If you look closely, you can even see a midget robot submarine that has emerged from the entrails of the mother vessel. Believe it or not, this is an authentic aspect of Australia's future submarine fleet. Vicious little unmanned tadpoles will be expected to do all the dirty work while the host vessel sits quietly on the seabed, trying to remain undetected.

Recently, I got into a discussion with an Australian friend concerning the antiquated nature of the transport infrastructure in New South Wales. [NOTE 29 April 2017 : John Weiley] I was thinking primarily of roads, bridges and railway lines. He reacted simplistically by claiming that the volume of tax revenues in Australia is insufficient to cover expenditure in this domain. Now, that sounds to me like naive bullshit. In Australia, the land is composed of metaphorical gold. Theoretically, there are more than enough riches in Australia's soil to build the world's greatest roads, bridges, railway lines and nuclear-powered submarines. There's enough uranium in Australia to power all the nuclear vessels of all the navies of the globe. The only vital natural resource that is totally lacking in Australia is political consciousness. The concept of statesmanship is unknown in Australia. Politicians get elected because they promise, say, to lower interest rates for wage-earners paying mortgages on their suburban houses. Australians voters simply don't comprehend the notion of electing an individual with political wisdom, vision, imagination and profound humanitarian moral principles (as distinct from the candidate's uninteresting personal beliefs of a religious kind). For loud-mouthed snake-oil candidates, seeking to be elected, mythical Australia is the richest land on Earth... and I agree with them a priori. But, for elected representatives of the nation, there's never enough cash in the coffers to build a safe road, a modern bridge, a decent train service or a self-respecting nuclear-powered submarine.

An article in this morning's The Australian says: Although Defence has not yet ruled out the possibility of Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, this option is considered highly unlikely on strategic, practical and political grounds.

Note the final adjective: political. That's what I was saying a moment ago: Australia is simply not mature enough, politically, to own a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. As the old saying goes, or might have gone: Every nation has the submarines it deserves.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Submarine leak

Let’s suppose you’ve just ordered an impressive automobile, made in France, and that you suddenly learn that detailed technical descriptions of the manufacturer’s electronic devices for automobiles have just been stolen. As a future owner of a product from that French manufacturer, you might feel worried.

That kind of situation has just arisen in Australia concerning their massive order for French submarines. In a nutshell, the Australian press has revealed that a massive leak has been detected, apparently in India (?), concerning a model of the Scorpène submarine, manufactured by the French shipbuilder DCNS, and sold to the navies of India, Malasia, Chili and Brazil.

Worker at DCNS

Scorpène submarine

Let me point out immediately that the Scorpène is not the model sold to Australia, whose order concerns the Barracuda submarine, quite different to the Scorpène. Not surprisingly, France and the French manufacturer DCNS will be carrying out an in-depth investigation into the Scorpène leak. For the moment, nothing indicates that this Scorpène leak might present the slightest problem to Australia's future maritime defence.

You might subscribe to The Australian in order to obtain an original article on this leak. Here are some extracts of this article that were sent to me this morning by a political contact:

Our French submarine builder in massive leak scandal

The French company that won the bid to design Australia’s new $50 billion submarine fleet has suffered a massive leak of secret documents, raising fears about the future security of top-secret data on the navy’s future fleet.

The stunning leak, which runs to 22,400 pages and has been seen by The Australian, details the ­entire secret combat capability of the six Scorpene-class submarines that French shipbuilder DCNS has designed for the Indian Navy.

A variant of the same French-designed Scorpene is also used by the navies of Malaysia, Chile and, from 2018, Brazil, so news of the Edward Snowden-sized leak — ­revealed today — will trigger alarm at the highest level in these countries. Marked “Restricted Scorpene India”, the DCNS documents ­detail the most sensitive combat capabilities of India’s new $US3 bn ($3.9bn) submarine fleet and would provide an ­intelligence bonanza if obtained by India’s strategic rivals, such as Pakistan or China.

The leak will spark grave concern in Australia and especially in the US where senior navy officials have privately expressed fears about the security of top-secret data entrusted to France.

In April DCNS, which is two-thirds owned by the French government, won the hotly contested bid over Germany and Japan to design 12 new submarines for Australia. Its proposed submarine for Australia — the yet-to-be-built Shortfin Barracuda — was chosen ahead of its rivals because it was considered to be the quietest in the water, making it perfectly suited to intelligence-gathering operations against China and others in the ­region.

Any stealth advantage for the navy’s new submarines would be gravely compromised if data on its planned combat and performance capabilities was leaked in the same manner as the data from the ­Scorpene. The leaked DCNS data details the secret stealth capabilities of the six new Indian submarines, including what frequencies they gather intelligence at, what levels of noise they make at various speeds and their diving depths, range and endurance — all sensitive information that is highly classified. The data tells the submarine crew where on the boat they can speak safely to avoid ­detection by the enemy. It also discloses magnetic, electromagnetic and infra-red data as well as the specifications of the submarine’s torpedo launch system and the combat system.

It details the speed and conditions needed for using the periscope, the noise specifications of the propeller and the radiated noise levels that occur when the submarine surfaces.

The data seen by The Australian includes 4457 pages on the submarine’s underwater sensors, 4209 pages on its above-water sensors, 4301 pages on its combat management system, 493 pages on its torpedo launch system and specifications, 6841 pages on the sub’s communications system and 2138 on its navigation systems.

The Australian has chosen to redact sensitive information from the documents.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it was important to note the submarine DCNS was building for India was a completely different model to the one it will build for Australia and the leaked information was a few years out of date. Nevertheless, any leak of classified information was a concern.

“We have the highest security protections on all of our defence information, whether it is in partnership with other countries or entirely within Australia,” he told the Seven Network today.

“But clearly, it is a reminder that, particularly in this digital world, cyber security is of critical importance.”

Influential senator Nick Xenophon said he would pursue the security breach when parliament returns next week.

Senator Xenophon, who leads a bloc of three senators, said Australia needed serious explanations from DCNS, the federal government and the Defence Department about any implications for Australia.

“This is really quite disastrous to have thousands of pages of your combat system leaked in this way,” the senator told ABC radio.

Sea trials for the first of India’s six Scorpene submarines began in May. The project is running four years behind schedule.

The Indian Navy has boasted that its Scorpene submarines have superior stealth features, which give them a major advantage against other submarines.

The US will be alarmed by the leak of the DCNS data because Australia hopes to install an American combat system — with the latest US stealth technology — in the French Shortfin Barracuda.

If Washington does not feel confident that its “crown jewels’’ of stealth technology can be protected, it may decline to give Australia its state-of-the-art combat system.

DCNS yesterday sought to ­reassure Australians that the leak of the data on the Indian Scorpene submarine would not happen with its proposed submarine for Australia. The company also implied — but did not say directly — that the leak might have occurred at India’s end, rather than from France. “Uncontrolled technical data is not possible in the Australian ­arrangements,” the company said. “Multiple and independent controls exist within DCNS to prevent unauthorised access to data and all data movements are encrypted and recorded. In the case of India, where a DCNS design is built by a local company, DCNS is the provider and not the controller of technical data.

“In the case of Australia, and unlike India, DCNS is both the provider and in-country controller of technical data for the full chain of transmission and usage over the life of the submarines.”

However, The Australian has been told that the data on the Scorpene was written in France for India in 2011 and is suspected of being removed from France in that same year by a former French Navy officer who was at that time a DCNS subcontractor.

The data is then believed to have been taken to a company in Southeast Asia, possibly to assist in a commercial venture for a ­regional navy.

It was subsequently passed by a third party to a second company in the region before being sent on a data disk by regular mail to a company in Australia. It is unclear how widely the data has been shared in Asia or whether it has been obtained by foreign ­intelligence agencies.

The data seen by The Australian also includes separate confidential DCNS files on plans to sell French frigates to Chile and the French sale of the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship carrier to Russia. These DCNS projects have no link to India, which adds weight to the probability that the data files were removed from DCNS in France.

DCNS Australia this month signed a deed of agreement with the Defence Department, ­paving the way for talks over the contract which will guide the design phase of the new ­submarines. The government plans to build 12 submarines in Adelaide to replace the six-boat Collins-class fleet from the early 2030s. The Shortfin Barracuda will be a slightly shorter, conventionally powered version of France’s new fleet of Barracuda-class nuclear submarines.

Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said his officials believed the leak had “no bearing” on the Australia’s submarine program.

“The Future Submarine Program operates under stringent security requirements that govern the manner in which all information and technical data is managed now and into the future,” Mr Pyne’s office said in a statement.

“The same requirements apply to the protection of all sensitive information and technical data for the Collins class submarines, and have operated successfully for decades.”

Friday, April 22, 2016

Did Australia take notice of my advice of 2008 about the superior qualities of French submarines?

In my blog post of January 21, 2008 entitled Expensive, aesthetic and nasty [click here], I made an out-of-the-way suggestion: If Australia's armed forces wish to purchase a new fleet of excellent submarines, why don't they examine what France has to offer? At the same time that I made those remarks publicly in my blog, I got into direct contact with Ross Babbage, chairman of the Kokoda Foundation in Canberra. He's the man who actually signed the Kokoda paper #4 of April 2007, which was the main source of the media articles that had presented this submarine affair to the public, as explained in my article of 26 December 2007 entitled Australia's submarines [click here]. Ross Babbage reacted kindly by sending me (airmail to France) a complimentary copy of his report, along with helpful explanations that clarified the situation considerably.

French Barracuda submarine

For the moment, I don't know whether Australia has reached a decision on this question. But I heard yesterday that France is highly placed.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Expensive, aesthetic and nasty

An inspired TV journalist once asked the Dalai Lama: "Can your beliefs in reincarnation and your unbounded respect for all forms of life be reconciled with the case, say, of a mosquito that's intent upon settling on your arm and sucking your blood?" The grinning Dalai Lama said he would try to shoo the creature away. The journalist insisted: "But what if the mosquito fails to go away, because it's determined to bite you?" The Dalai Lama broke into typical laughter and made it clear by a few unmistakable gestures that, in such circumstances, the creature stood a good chance of being squashed to death. I admired the Dalai Lama's suggestion that it's all very well to have lofty principles... but, if an alien creature is attacking you, then it's perfectly normal to exterminate the vicious little bugger. [On the other hand, maybe I totally misunderstood what the wise man was saying.]

I can't say I've ever felt the need to respect religiously all forms of life, because I grew up in an environment where it was quite normal to kill various animals: snakes, rabbits, hens, ducks, etc. It's true, though, that I was overcome by pangs of guilt for several days, at around the age of ten, after having shot an unsuspecting bird with a catapult. [Even today, I remain so marked by that anecdote that I recently wove it into my fictional biography of Master Bruno, the medieval hermit who founded the Carthusian order of Christian monks.] I'm not cynical to the point of saying that rules are made to be broken, but I believe that we have the right—and the obligation, at times—to stretch them to their breaking point... and what the hell if they snap! That's why I like the Dalai Lama's loose attitude towards offensive mosquitoes, as opposed, say, to the dogmatic outlook of many Christian prelates concerning aborted foetuses or human stem cells.

In a neighboring moral domain, I've never been an all-out pacifist, either. For example, I've always been horrified by the alleged "turning the other cheek" principle of Christianity [which, I believe, has rarely been put into regular practice]. If I had been a Christian in one of Rome's martyrdom arenas, I would have used every possible means at my disposal in order to kill the beasts before they killed me.

And that brings me to the subject of the present post: modern machines of destruction. I was happy to see that some privileged Australian military personnel have been undergoing training in France in the context of the purchase by my native land of several Franco-German combat helicopters of the Tiger class. Now, if you haven't seen these diabolical but fascinating beasts in action, you might take a look at the following spectacular video:


Jumping from helicopters to submarines [metaphorically], I feel obliged to add a few remarks concerning the subject I tackled briefly in my article of 2 January 2008 entitled Australian arithmetic [display]. Otherwise, I could be accused of expressing opinions and then leaving them hanging up in the air, without following them right on through. Let me repeat rapidly the essential points of my reflections concerning the high price of Australia's future submarines. The Australian press had announced that our country would be spending 25 billion dollars to build six diesel-powered vessels, and I made the remark that French nuclear-powered combat submarines of the Barracuda class can be purchased for 36% of that outlay: a billion euros per submarine.

At the same time that I made those remarks publicly in my blog, I got into direct contact with Ross Babbage, chairman of the Kokoda Foundation in Canberra. He's the man who actually signed the Kokoda paper #4 of April 2007, which was the main source of the media articles that had presented this submarine affair to the public, as explained in my article of 26 December 2007 entitled Australia's submarines [display]. Ross Babbage reacted kindly by sending me (airmail to France) a complimentary copy of his report, along with helpful explanations that clarify the situation considerably. Here are the precise words on this subject from the Kokoda paper #4:

... simply replacing the Collins Class submarines with a new class of six submarines would probably cost $12-$15 billion. Modernising and adapting Australia's total underwater capabilities to meet the needs of potential defence contingencies in the 2025-2050 timeframe would probably require expenditures in the order of $20-$25 billion.

In other words, we are down to a unit price of $2-$2.5 billion per vessel. Expressed in European currency, that's a unit price between 1.2 and 1.5 billion euros. It's still 20% to 50% more expensive than the ultramodern French nuclear-powered Barracuda submarine, but we're down to sensible figures. Incidentally, the expression "Australia's total underwater capabilities" includes, besides the six future submarines, such costly matters as RAN anti-submarine warfare capabilities and RAAF underwater-surveillance capabilities.

Now, the Antipodes blog is hardly the right place to get deeply involved in affairs of this kind. All I wish to say, by way of a conclusion, is that I was rather surprised by the relatively "lightweight" nature of the Kokoda paper, which is a tiny printed booklet of no more than 64 pages. I had been expecting that the so-called "paper" would be a dense fact-filled report stored, maybe, on a set of DVDs. On the contrary, it skims through the domain of submarines with no attempt whatsoever at attaining depth. Astonishing in the case of a report on submarines...

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Australian arithmetic

During my short trip to Australia in 2006, I was shocked to discover that there were no trains to a couple of NSW towns that I wished to visit (Braidwood and Byron Bay), and I was further surprised to find that the only way of crossing the river at Grafton was by means of the antiquated bridge over which I used to pedal my bicycle when I was a boy.

Since then, I've got into the habit of asking naive questions about Australia's infrastructures. Why do Australians never stop boasting about the fabulous wealth of their land, while still tolerating old-fashioned infrastructures that are often like those of a developing nation? A friend tried to tell me recently that the respective infrastructures of France and Australia cannot be compared because... there are three times as many tax-payers in France as in Australia. This analysis is rubbish, of course. When Australia sells a mountain of precious minerals to foreign purchasers, her potential income from the deal has nothing whatsoever to do with the number of Aussies paying taxes. It's a matter of complex political, economic and business considerations that determine what percentage of such wealth will return to Australian citizens, and how much will be left in the hands of greedy international capitalists. It's childishly naive to imagine that the quality of Australia's roads, bridges and railway lines depends necessarily and exclusively upon the financial resources resulting from income tax paid by Aussie wage-earners. That is not only bad arithmetic; it's bad politics. And you can't run a country on such idiotic principles. If indeed the mountains of minerals that we're peddling to foreign buyers don't enable the citizens of Australia to take advantage of decent infrastructures, then our nation's leaders should halt immediately the sale of these mountains of minerals, while we do some serious thinking about what has gone wrong.

Let me turn my attention to another kind of infrastructure. In my articles entitled Australia's submarines [display] and Nuclear energy [display], I referred to an aspect of Australia's future defense system that has given rise to articles in the local press over the last few days. All these articles repeat the same huge investment figure: some 25 billion dollars for six future submarines. Now, this is typically the kind of situation in which a citizen, instead of believing naively what he hears, has the right and the possibility to do some independent thinking. Let's talk in euros. The unit cost of each of Australia's future submarines amounts to 2.75 billion euros. And what is Australia going to receive for this sum? An old-fashioned vessel that runs on diesel oil. My God, that's a lot of cash for a diesel boat!

By way of comparison, let us look at the production of one of the world's most advanced nations in the field of nuclear-propelled submarines: France. It just so happens that France, like Australia, is currently planning to renew its fleet of six attack submarines. The future model is known as the Barracuda, and it will be constructed in the Cherbourg shipyards in Normandy.

The Barracuda vessels will, of course, be propelled by nuclear energy. So, they will be intrinsically far more sophisticated than Australia's classic vessels. And the Barracuda's unit cost price? One billion euros. In other words, Australia's classic submarine, to be delivered in 2025, will be 2.75 times as expensive as France's avant-garde nuclear vessel, to be delivered eight years earlier, in 2017.

Is there something wrong with my arithmetic? Or is there maybe something wrong with Australia's political thinking about the nation's allegedly high-priced infrastructures?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Nuclear energy

In my recent article entitled Australia's submarines [display], I suggested that there is insufficient political consciousness and statesmanlike imagination in Australia to envisage a big project such as the construction of a fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines. In The Australian today, there are a few negative remarks on this question. For example, Opposition Senator Nick Minchin states: "Australia has no capability or expertise to build or maintain nuclear submarines and the Collins-class boats have proved that conventional submarines can do the job. Rather than have a distracting debate, Labor should just rule out the nuclear option now." Peter Briggs, president of the Submarine Institute of Australia, stated that the main problem is lack of knowledge: "I think they should rule out the nuclear option because frankly we do not have time for such a major debate if we are to deliver new submarines by 2025. Australia has no nuclear industry and no nuclear facilities at our universities, and so we don't have the personnel or the knowledge required."

I'm dismayed by this defeatist thinking, which reflects Australia's stubborn head-in-the-sand attitude towards nuclear energy. And, with Kevin Rudd now elected, it's almost certain that the nuclear-energy situation in Australia will be bleaker than ever.

Here in France, of course, nuclear energy has become an everyday affair. Technological progress and advanced expertise should normally decrease the risks of catastrophes, and relatively few people—apart from Greenpeace and a handful of environmental groups—would contend today that developments in this domain should be halted. On the contrary, the commune of Cadarache in the south of France (near Marseille) will soon be hosting a huge futuristic research program called ITER [International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor] funded by the European Union, India, Japan, the People's Republic of China, Russia, South Korea and the USA.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Australia's submarines

It has just been announced that Australia plans to build "the world's most lethal conventional submarine fleet". That curious expression is an example of the propensity to exaggerate whenever Australians talk about Australia. It's a little like referring, say, to "the world's most powerful horse-cavalry division". If foreign navies throughout the world were to reach a gentlemen's agreement with Australia to the effect that only classic diesel-powered submersible vessels would be employed in future underwater conflicts with the Royal Australian Navy, then we would probably be in a relatively comfortable situation. But, if an uncouth enemy were to ignore the rules of the game by using attack submarines of the nuclear-powered SSN class (not to be confused with submarines that actually launch nuclear missiles), then Australia's antiquated SSG models might not be nearly as "deadly" as claimed.

Australia's recent history in the submarine domain, dating from the Bob Hawke era and culminating in the existence of six faulty Australian-made Collins-class vessels, has been catastrophic, from both a financial and a technological viewpoint. Will the situation be better when these old-fashioned mediocre submarines (whose computer systems are off-the-shelf products from Raytheon) are replaced around 2025 by the newer models, to be manufactured by the same shipbuilder?

As an outside observer knowing little about defense strategies in general and submarines in particular, I have the impression that the decision that has just been announced has been largely inspired by the cogitations of an Australian think tank named Kokoda.

For $22 you can even purchase a paper signed by Ross Babbage, dated April 2007, entitled Australia's Future Underwater Operations and System Requirements. Although I haven't yet invested in a copy of this report (and no doubt never will, because I've got more exciting stuff to read), I'm convinced that the decision of the Royal Australian Navy reflects intimately the thinking of the above-named author. So, it would appear to be a blatant case of one-man thinking. What a tank for submarines! Incidentally, at the Kokoda website, the summary of Babbage's report is accompanied by a quaint drawing:

Don't you agree with me that this rudimentary sketch looks like an illustration from an old volume by Jules Verne? If you look closely, you can even see a midget robot submarine that has emerged from the entrails of the mother vessel. Believe it or not, this is an authentic aspect of Australia's future submarine fleet. Vicious little unmanned tadpoles will be expected to do all the dirty work while the host vessel sits quietly on the seabed, trying to remain undetected.

Recently, I got into a discussion with an Australian friend concerning the antiquated nature of the transport infrastructure in New South Wales. I was thinking primarily of roads, bridges and railway lines. He reacted simplistically by claiming that the volume of tax revenues in Australia is insufficient to cover expenditure in this domain. Now, that sounds to me like naive bullshit. In Australia, the land is composed of metaphorical gold. Theoretically, there are more than enough riches in Australia's soil to build the world's greatest roads, bridges, railway lines and nuclear-powered submarines. There's enough uranium in Australia to power all the nuclear vessels of all the navies of the globe. The only vital natural resource that is totally lacking in Australia is political consciousness. The concept of statesmanship is unknown in Australia. Politicians get elected because they promise, say, to lower interest rates for wage-earners paying mortgages on their suburban houses. Australians voters simply don't comprehend the notion of electing an individual with political wisdom, vision, imagination and profound humanitarian moral principles (as distinct from the candidate's uninteresting personal beliefs of a religious kind). For loud-mouthed snake-oil candidates, seeking to be elected, mythical Australia is the richest land on Earth... and I agree with them a priori. But, for elected representatives of the nation, there's never enough cash in the coffers to build a safe road, a modern bridge, a decent train service or a self-respecting nuclear-powered submarine.

An article in this morning's The Australian says: Although Defence has not yet ruled out the possibility of Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, this option is considered highly unlikely on strategic, practical and political grounds.

Note the final adjective: political. That's what I was saying a moment ago: Australia is simply not mature enough, politically, to own a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. As the old saying goes, or might have gone: Every nation has the submarines it deserves.