Tuesday 16th of July 2024

bright, cheerful, optimistic, colourful AUKUS submarine presentation....

Despite continuing optimism from Prime Minister Albanese and Defence Minister Marles and the defence commentariat about the AUKUS submarine deal it continues to attract significant uncertainty and doubt in the wider community. This centres around issues such as sovereignty, our industrial capability to manage the construction and longer term maintenance and the massive donation ( over $A4 billion) to the US’s own worrying ailing defence industry.


Serious concerns about the AUKUS submarine deal are not going away    By Mack Williams


Importantly, the US has not been oblivious to the urgent need to try to counter these concerns and now has a comprehensive program very much in full swing aimed at stiffening up Australian public support for AUKUS – and the Alliance more generally. The State Department’s extensive “2024 Integrated Country Strategy for Australia” is replete with efforts to widen and “diversify” Australian support for AUKUS and the Alliance – especially among students and younger generations.

Here the United States Studies Centres at universities in Sydney and Perth ( and who receive funding from the US Government among others) play an important role. Entering into the domestic political scene recently, the USSC’s Peter Dean wrote an article (  “Anti-Aukus coalition is splintered and confused about progress of submarines and industrial base “) demeaning Australians who expressed doubts about AUKUS – and especially the submarines – as the “doomsday preppers” – so appropriately an American TV characterisation! He also quoted a “defence analyst” as talking of the “reptilian pile-on against AUKUS in Australia has been something to behold”.

This US push has also been evidenced by the veritable conga chain of senior American officials and military recently gracing our shores to deliver pep talks and promote rallying endorsements through our drip fed media. Some of which would likely amount to inappropriate interference in our domestic political scene by many other foreign governments or agencs . A primary US objective has been to seek to rebut continuing concerns among many Australians about the loss of sovereignty the AUKUS submarine deal inevitably entails. Take for example, the Deputy Commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, Lieutenant General Stephen Sklenka, in a recent address to the National Press Club reportedly claimed that Australia will not automatically be dragged into any future conflict with China despite growing integration between both militaries under the AUKUS partnership.

That was a deliberately concocted attempt to mislead Australian public opinion as it is abundantly clear that we are already wedged so that inevitably we would be unable to avoid being drawn into any military conflict between the US and China – such as over Taiwan. The facts are that :

  • A pivotal issue for gaining US Congressional support for the SSN deal was that the sale to Australia must not degrade the USN’s own IndoPacific submarine capability – in an environment of serious doubt about US industry capability to meet even its own large construction and maintenance targets.
  • This was underlined graphically at the 2024 Sea-Air-Space exposition, by Vice Admiral Robert Gaucher (US Commander Naval Submarine Forces) who claimed the agreement would not lead to a drop in the availability of long-range, nuclear-powered submarines required when the allies’ numbers are counted in addition to the United States !
  • Over 400 RAN personnel are being fully integrated into the operational USN fleet of 25 SSN’s in the first phase of AUKUS. Significant numbers of Australian Defence and Intelligence personnel have also already been embedded into the various US agencies responsible for planning IndoPacific military strategy.
  • Any proposition that Australia needed these extraordinarily expensive and complex nuclear prolled vessels was for independent use against China is dangerously farcical. What other potential threat would we need them for? We would not be able to deploy them  against China without the massive support of the US in protective cover , intelligence, logistics, resupply, maintenance and repair well away from Australia and so on. Almost certainly our submarines would need to be deployed in conjunction with the USN in any military confrontation with China. Again as expressed by Gaucher :“if there’s a problem they can phone home.(ed. by which of course he means the US!)”. And let us not forget that.

As a recent article in the credible Foreign Policy reported, another concerning element of the US “ no degrading” equation continues to be the failure of its own defence industry to meet USN demands :
“After decades of strategic drift and costly acquisition failures, the U.S. Navy is sailing straight into a storm it can’t avoid. Despite the Defense Department’s lip service about China being the “pacing challenge,” decades of deindustrialization and policymakers’ failure to prioritize among services and threats have left the Navy ill-equipped to endure a sustained high-intensity conflict in the Pacific. The United States is unable to keep pace with Chinese shipbuilding and will fall even further behind in the coming years.”

It pointed out that “fiscal constraints are forcing the Navy to cut procurement requests, delay modernization programs, and retire ships early. The Navy’s budget for the 2025 fiscal year calls for decommissioning 19 ships—including three nuclear-powered attack submarines and four guided-missile cruisers—while procuring only six new vessels.” The two shipyards involved are delivering 1.3 boats annually and the USN budget proposal only calls for one new Virginia SSN.
In addition, “Workforce shortages and supply chain issues are also limiting shipbuilding capacity. ……The Navy needs more shipyard capacity, but finding enough qualified workers for the yards remains the biggest barrier to expanding production. The shipbuilding industry is struggling to attract talent, losing out to fast food restaurants that offer better pay and benefits for entry-level employees. At bottom, it is a lack of welders, not widgets, that must be overcome if the U.S. Navy is to grow its fleet.”

All of which led the Secretary of the Navy (Del Toro) earlier this year to call for a major internal review of naval shipbuilding which demonstrated that the situation is progressively worsening. In fronting Congressional challenges about this concerning scene Del Toro is quoted as saying that he spends 75% of his time on the shipbuilding problem. Some US analysts argue that The 20-year Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program aimed at upgrading dry docks, facilities, and equipment costing well over the projected $21 billion is only intended to maximize existing U.S. industrial capacity and won’t do much to close the enormous shipbuilding gap with China.

Faced with this gloomy outlook, Del Toro has been actively trying to attract foreign support for the USN’s shipbuilding and maintenance urgent needs. Earlier this year he visited Japan and the ROK to promote their investment in the US naval shipbuilding industry and outsourcing of USN naval repair and maintenance. Similar arrangements were made last year with India on maintenance and repair.

Incidentally, in a more recent Congressional appearance there was criticism levelled at the US Defence Industry for the lengthy construction delays and mismanagement of funds paid to it by the USN. This also when Transparency International earlier this year ( “Blissfully Blind: The new US push for defence industrial collaboration with partner countries and its corruption risks” warned:
“The rise in global insecurity is pushing many US security partner countries to reignite or revise a familiar but risky approach to expanding national defence industrial capabilities. Sometimes referred to as ‘defence offsets’ or ‘industrial participation’, this approach requires foreign defence companies to invest in the local economies of countries as a condition for the purchase of major weapons systems. Defence offsets can benefit local defence industries, but they also contain many aspects that make them particularly vulnerable to corruption. US defence companies are rapidly responding to these partner demands with increasing US government support and within an incredibly lax US regulatory environment.”

All of which is directly relevant to the over $A 4 billion donation which Australia is committed, under the AUKUS deal, to making to the US Defence industry separate to the other huge payments for the submarines and the associated costs.
Not surprisingly given the track record, few details have yet emerged about how this gift is to be made other than that the funds are to be channelled through Navy Secretary Del Toro who will be responsible for deciding on their allocation between US defence companies. Early indications are that all the funds will not necessarily be allocated to the actual construction of the Australian submarines.

The risks of corruption in the US Defence industry have been so well documented over many years. Another recent Transparency International paper (“US Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC) fuel corruption and conflict risk”) detailed how some of the largest U.S. PMSC companies score poorly on their overall commitment to anti-corruption and corporate transparency, including their commitment to reduce corruption in supply chains, agents, conflicts of interest and political contributions.

Our relevant institutions are bound to be challenged in trying to protect this extraordinary donation of taxpayers’ money.




Biden’s Foreign-Policy Problem Is Incompetence
The U.S. military’s collapsed pier in Gaza is symbolic of a much bigger issue.




As the New York Mets compiled a record of 40 wins and 120 losses during their comically inept inaugural season, manager Casey Stengel famously lamented: “Can’t anyone here play this game?” I thought of Stengel’s remark when I learned that the temporary pier the United States had built to bring relief aid into Gaza had collapsed. It was an apt metaphor for the Biden administration’s handling of the whole Gaza conflict, as critics on social media were quick to point out. Constructing the pier was essentially an expensive PR stuntundertaken because U.S. officials were unwilling to force Israel to open the border crossings and allow sufficient relief aid for civilians facing a man-made humanitarian catastrophe. This largely symbolic effort managed to deliver about 60 truckloads of aid before rough seas damaged the structure and aid deliveries were suspended. Repairs are now underway and will reportedly take at least a week, and the cost of the whole operation is already hundreds of millions of dollars and rising.











Down-payments on our own destruction    By Alison Broinowski


Australians used to be scared off voting Labor by Coalition predictions of debt, deficit, and disaster. Labor used to shame Liberals and Nationals with promises of spending to end child poverty, close the indigenous gap, and create a clever country. All that was before AUKUS.

Now, fiscal rectitude and value for taxpayers’ money are forgotten. Anything goes, as long as it’s for ‘defence’ – that is, military – purposes.

On top of the $368 billion nominal cost of the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines, the Morrison government incurred an obligation to pay France $4 billion to get out of buying its Attack class conventional submarines, a contract about which President Macron famously knew he was lied to by Morrison. To bridge the time-lag to delivery of American or British boats (which may never happen) the six Australian-built Collins class submarines have to be rehabilitated, with a 50 percent cost blowout to the tune of $6 billion – a billion per copy ‒ to pay for a further two to three-year delay.

As former submariner and senator Rex Patrick reports, ‘submarine sustainment’ cost $410 million a year from 2009 to 2012. It now costs $769 million to keep the Collins Class submarines at sea, yet three of the boats are in dry dock while the operational status of those in the water is unclear. Patrick adds that an ‘independent assurance activity’ on the three-year Collins life extension done by a retired senior US Navy official found the program to be risky.

The risks could include Australia’s shortage of submariners and engineers. Equally risky is delivery of eight nuclear-powered submarines by 2040. British shipyards at BAE Shipyards at Barrow-in-Furness, and American manufacturers General Dynamics Electric Boat of Groton, Connecticut and Newport News Shipbuilding have more orders from their own governments than they can meet, let alone capacity to supply other countries. Australia has not enough submariners or other troops: we now seek military people from Five Nations countries and elsewhere.

The US nonetheless keeps delivering its anti-China war-talk, amplified enthusiastically to Australians by most columnists in the mainstream media. At the recent Shangri-la Dialogue, Americans confirmed that the ‘Indo-Pacific’ is their main focus. Forget Russia/Ukraine and Israel/Palestine, they implied, the real enemy of the US is China. Increase your defence spending, they tell their NATO and ANZUS allies, and join us in defending democracy and civilisation in East Asia. For Australia, that means not only handing over more money, but more territory for US bases on land and sea, and for nuclear waste. Both could be here for a very long time.

AUKUS is the Trojan Horse that, thanks to Morrison and Albanese, is already delivering Trident missiles, B52 bombers, and thousands of US military people to Northern and Western Australia. We don’t know if the bombers are armed with nuclear weapons, and Foreign Minister Penny Wong accepts that we will not be told. Nor will Australians know what the US decides to do with them. A nuclear or conventional attack launched from Australia against China makes our territory, not America’s, an immediate target.

Yet that appears to be what US military people want, and some predict that it will happen in a very few years. Some Australians like former Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezullo, former head of ASPI Peter Jennings, and the Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan anticipate it not with dread but apparent enthusiasm, demanding even more spending on weapons for ‘deterrence’ in case our American allies should weaken. Australians respond to recent surveys ambiguously, with low regard for China and declining trust in the US, yet still unable to acknowledge – as Malcolm Fraser did ten years ago – that it is the American alliance that since 1945 has endangered more than defended us.

The US hegemonic project uses its military industry everywhere to wage wars, destroy countries, and move on. Now, Australia could be next. Australians in growing numbers are joining civil society groups seeking to end our expensive participation in America’s endless, losing wars, and our own destruction. They point to the defence deficit that, in the next budget, will make it even harder for young people to pay for somewhere to live; that will erode Labor’s affordable homes project; and cut its delivery of transmission lines for green electricity. They see Australia lagging behind countries in our region with their fast trains, public transport, and sophisticated infrastructure.

Many Australians set the extravagant and unlimited sums being spent on AUKUS against Australia’s over-crowded, under-resourced public schools, compared with their over-funded ‘private’ counterparts. They see stressed hospital emergency departments, and dedicated but exploited medical staff. They compare the amounts intended for ‘defence’ ‒ killing people elsewhere ‒ with what’s available in Australia for child care, disability, mental, and aged care, as well as responding to another pandemic. They ask about what US military installations and nuclear waste will add to the environmental damage we have already done to this country. They compare the prospect of a losing war against China with Australia’s future as a non-aligned, cooperative member of this region. It speaks for itself: now is our last chance to decide.









Down Periscope is a submarine comedy; the Australian version is a comedic tragedy. Former Royal Australian Navy serviceman, Rex Patrick on the latest Defence debacle.

‘Down Periscope’ is a comical movie about an old decrepit submarine being turned into a winning capability. The real life ‘Down Periscope’ being played out in the Royal Australian Navy has an opposite plot and is a $30B tragedy.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

In 2019 the Navy decided to upgrade the search periscopes on the Collins Class submarines from an ‘analogue’ periscope device to a ‘digital’ optronic device. Subsequently, Defence entered into a contract with Raytheon for $381M to do the upgrade work.

At Senate Estimates in February, based on a tip, Senator Jacqui Lambie asked Defence officials if there were installation issues with the new optronics masts – she suggested they didn’t fit. They took the question on notice, and then didn’t answer it. 

They have also failed, in the 90 days since I submitted a ‘measure twice, cut once’ FOI application seeking details about the installation plans and troubles, to come back to me with the results of that FOI submission (the statutory processing time frame is 30 days). 

Yesterday, before Defence Estimates commenced, the Minister for Defence Industry announced the optronics mast upgrade will not go ahead.

Under questions from Senator Lambie this afternoon, the Chief of Navy denied that the decision not to proceed with the upgrade was related to an installation issue, but revealed they have spent $33 million dollar on the masts and will likely have to pay an additional break fee for the contract.

That’s 33 million wasted! Cha-ching!

But wait, there’s much more!

The sad thing is, the optronics mast waste is practice waste. Practice makes perfect, and Defence are certainly well versed at wasting large sums of money, letting the taxpayer shoulder the cost and national security be what it is.

Fifteen years ago, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd unveiled the 2009 Defence White Paper which included the planned replacement of the 6 Collins Class submarines with 12 future submarines.

Construction of the first future submarine was to begin in 2016, in time for it to be fully tested, commissioned and accepted into service, ready to replace the first retiring Collins Class submarine in 2024 and thereby avoiding a capability gap.  

Defence dithered and dathered on a replacement solution, first considering a son-of-Collins design (and actively discrediting all off-the-shelf submarine designs available at the time) and then a Japanese submarine before contracting the French in 2016 to build 12 Attack Class submarines. 

In September 2021, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced his AUKUS plans, the Attack class submarine program was cancelled. Unfortunately, a lot of the focus around that announcement was centred on the fallout between Morrison and French President Macron, which meant that the enduring loss of $4B (including an $830M compensation payment to the French), money spent not achieving anything, was almost lost in the shadows.


Collins lifebuoy ahoy

Along with the cancellation of the optronic mast and Tomahawk missile, the Defence Industry Minister (re)announced the Government would spend between $4B to $5B (officials later stated the cost would be $4.3B to $6.4B) extending the life of Collins.

The Minister, in (re)announcing the extension, cast the expenditure as an investment. But the truth is, if Defence had been capable of buying a submarine in the 15 years since the program was announced, this expenditure wouldn’t have been necessary if Defence had simply approached the future submarine in accordance with the 2009 plan.

So, hardly an investment, really just a waste.


Even more cost depths

The $4.3B to $6.4B cost of the life extension covers upgrades to the Collins main motor, diesels and switchboards, not the ongoing sustainment cost.

There is bad news. Coincidentally, on the day the Minister was (re)announcing the life extension project, the Chief of Navy was giving some advice to the Senate on the cost of keeping older ships going.

The reality with the cost of ownership of warships is, there’s a slight premium at the beginning when you settle them into service and iron out any issues. Then that cost of ownership stabilises through life and then as they get older the cost off ownership increases, particularly as you are dealing with obsolescence issues and more frequent repair issues.”

The cost of Collins sustainment has risen to $769M this year, from $710M last year. It’s a situation that keeps getting worse and we should expect it will continue to get worse as we move forward.


Boats no better above surface 

Last year, we learned that the future frigates, which was supposed to be a proven off-the-shelf vessel but ended up being a paper design, had gone from $45B for nine vessels (from an original $30 billion plan) to $65 billion.

The government’s response to this blowout was to decrease the number of ships purchased from nine to six. So, we were buying nine ships for $45 billion and are now getting six vessels for the same price.


And to rub salt into the taxpayers’ wounds, the Chief of Navy, under questioning from Senator David Shoebridge, conceded that the offshore patrol vessel fleet we are getting for $4.7 billion dollars is “not fit for purpose”. It’s a Navy vessel that has “limited utility in combat operations”. Thank you, Defence, and thank you, consultants, who analysed the market and advised them on the best way forward.


McHale’s Navy marooned

Senate Estimates has revealed a naval shipwreck. Ignoring the $30B in waste described above, as hard as that might be, between Senators David Fawcett and Shoebridge, it was established that if we had to go into combat in the next couple of years, we’d be in a lot of trouble. When the balloon goes up you have to fight with what you’ve got, not what you expect to get in 10 years. 

With no new (usable) ships to be delivered before 2032, two of our eight ANZAC class frigates being decommissioned, submarine docking times on the increase and the Navy relying on the hope that we’ll get some developmental mine warfare capabilities online sometime in the next 5 years, the total likely combat capability available (taking into account that not every ship the Navy has in the water will be available) will be:

  • 2 Collins submarines
  • 2 Air Warfare Destroyers
  • 4 ANZAC frigates

For the billions of dollars we’re spending on our Navy each year, we could station one combat vessel every 3,220 km along our 25,760 km coastline. 

Senator Shoebridge summed up the situation to MWM slightly differently:

With what we have available I’m confident we could take on the inhabitants of Heard Island, assuming we can get one of our two supply ships going.






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