Australia’s plans to acquire a mixed fleet of nuclear-powered submarines are “extremely risky” and are unlikely to be fully delivered, former senator and submariner Rex Patrick warns.
The outspoken former politician, who served in the navy for a number of years, criticised the Albanese government’s 30-year timeline to attain at least eight submarines by the mid-2050s.
It comes as Defence Minister Richard Marles described the AUKUS pact as playing a pivotal role in allowing Australia to climb up the technological ladder.
As part of the deal announced by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in March, Australia will begin receiving US Virginia class boats from the early 2030s.
The first specially-designed AUKUS submarine, which will be based on the UK’s Astute class design with US weaponry, is expected to be delivered in 2042.
In the latest episode of podcast Democracy Sausage, released Wednesday, Mr Patrick pointed to a number of reasons why he believed the ambitious plan could soon become plagued with blowouts and delays.
The former submariner highlighted the UK’s poor track record on delivering defence projects on time and within budget as well as workforce shortages and capability gaps locally for the monumental task.
But Mr Patrick said his primary fear was the submarines had been chosen for their speed, which would allow Australian forces to quickly arrive in potential conflict zones, such as the South China Sea.
“We should always be focusing first and foremost on the defence of Australia – that doesn’t require a nuclear powered submarine,” he told podcast host Mark Kenny.
“When we want to contribute to any particular operations as a coalition, or as an ally to the US, we [should] take those assets that we have acquired for [the] defence of Australia and we utilise those.
“We don’t specifically design our defence force around the need to operate with a coalition in a distant place.”
Mr Patrick, who often grilled defence’s top brass while he was an independent senator, also criticised senior figures who were promoted to major procurement roles without the requisite experience.
“Defence always finds the hardest way to do things,” he said.
“We have all these generals and admirals and air marshals making decisions, and, or recommendations, about projects, when they have very little experience in project risk.
“And they’re making those recommendations to cabinet ministers, who have no idea about project risk.
“It’s just a recipe for disaster and that’s why we continuously see defence projects going off the rails.”
Mr Marles last October revealed 18 Defence projects were running over budget by at least $6.5 billion while 28 major projects were running more than 97 years late in total.
The Defence Minister and Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy said on the day of the announcement they were mindful of the risks of the project but were confident the risks had been considered and planned around.
Source : The Canberra Times