http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/stor ... 01,00.html
Only one submarine left to defend Australia
IAN McPHEDRAN May 21, 2009 12:01am
SUBMARINE woes have hit a new low with just one of six Collins Class craft fit for service.
Experts differ on the security risk this poses for the nation, but they agree that having just one boat available to defend the nation is a terrible return on a $10 billion taxpayer investment.
With HMAS Waller tied up at the Henderson shipyard south of Perth for urgent battery repairs, the only seaworthy sub is HMAS Farncomb.
The other four boats are either out of active service (HMAS Collins) or out of the water for major maintenance known as full cycle docking (HMAS Sheehan, Rankin and Dechaineux).
The latest submarine crisis comes just a month after the navy released a damning report into the management of the submarine force and its overworked crews with a solemn promise to fix the problems.
It also coincides with a $20 billion-plus push to equip the navy with 12 new generation submarines over the next 20 years.
Despite having just one operational vessel, the navy has promised the Government the subs will be available for an extra 160 days of duty next year.
Documents released with the Federal Budget show that the navy plans to increase the number of "unit ready days" for the fleet next year from 762 to 914 or more than 300 days each for three boats.
"There is less docking maintenance scheduled for FY09/10 hence the URD forecast is higher," it said.
Military expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute Andrew Davies said many issues needed to be sorted out before the nation invested $20 billion in a new submarine fleet.
"Do we spend more time thinking about buying new things than we do looking after what we have got?" he asked.
When they are working the Collins boats are the Australian Defence Force's most important strategic weapon. However, the subs have been dogged by major technical problems including leaky welds, excessive noise, and unworkable combat systems.
Waller's battery problem, the second inside a year, is reportedly so serious it could cost more than $3 million and take months to fix.
The navy denies any problem with Waller and says the maintenance stop was "scheduled."