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The Australian is reporting that the Federal Government is likely to accept a report recommending the construction in Adelaide of 12 Super Collins submarines at a cost of $18 Billion.

If this is true, it will be a courageous decision by Julia Gillard, given the bad publicity that the first 6 subs received.  But courageous decisions are what we want from governments, when they are the right thing to do – and this is.

The Collins class submarine is the finest sub in the world.  It is uniquely suited to Australian needs and conditions.  It is the only submarine the Americans are truly terrified of ever having to face as an enemy!

The building of the first 6 was stuffed up – that’s a fact.  But why?

It wasn’t the designers or builders.  In fact Australian managers and builders proved themselves to be the equal of any in the world.  It was almost universally said prior to the Collins that Australians were not capable of such a huge project.  But we proved them wrong.  In fact our welders, just as one example, had to redo the welding done by the Swedes as it wasn’t up to our standards!  No criticism of Sweden intended – we learnt heaps from the Swedes, and then did it better.

It was in the planning that we went wrong, and it was a relatively simple mistake – no prototype.  We initially decided to build off-the-shelf to a first-rate Swedish design, and avoid having to build and test a prototype.  But then we completely redesigned it because it was not suited to Australian conditions.  It was no longer the proven design we agreed on.  It was no longer off-the-shelf technology.  We increased the number of cylinders in the motors by 50%, to give just one example.  If you build a major new piece of military hardware, you always do a prototype to iron out the bugs, and we didn’t.  We then compounded the problem with the weapons software, insisting on an American package that we again changed entirely so that it was no longer off-the-shelf, and then insisted on staying with the Americans even when they proved incapable to meeting our specifications.

All these problems should have been worked out with a prototype.  But we didn’t build one.  We committed to 6 new boats immediately, so that effectively all 6 became prototypes.

Look at the Joint Strike Fighter project if you think that other people can build major new hardware without problems!  The staggering problems that the US is experiencing building a new plane dwarf our Collins experience.  In fact, whilst we had a lot of problems along the way and afterwards, we actually delivered the subs to our navy pretty well on time and on budget.  A tremendous effort.The Yanks love the way we beat up our every mistake, because it means that they can pretend to be better and sell us their equipment.  They patch up heaps of disasters that we don’t see because we are so busy beating ourselves up, and then pretend to be better builders.

We should build our own subs.  And they should be Collins derivatives – a “Super” Collins because this is the only submarine in the world that will be able to do the job that it needs to do.  European subs operate in shallow water over short distances.  Our needs are for deep ocean travel over long distances.  This requires a completely different machine, and it means we have to build our own.  We have proven we can do it, and have seen that it is an enormous boost to our domestic industrial base and skills.  Let’s get behind this project from the start.

And let’s put our energies into working out how Tassie can get a piece of the $18 Billion action!

All about Nigel Burch: During the period 2005-2008 I was an adviser to Deputy Premier Steve Kons and also his electorate officer.  Immediately prior to that I had been a director of the Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers.  In the 1990s I was Managing Director of a listed gold mining company and later assisted the Bosnian government with problems in their state steel industry at the end of the war.  I was honoured by the Australian Shareholders Assocation in1991 with a medal for services to small shareholders and assisted ABC 4-Corners with an award-winning documentary “Other People’s Money”.  Recently I was a national director of the RSPCA.