Ludwig von Gress
Whilst we Australians have problems with our current submarine fleet, we are not alone. It may or may not be some consolation, depending on how marxist your Weltanschaung is. Perhaps a brief, sorry history of our Collins-class under water vessels is in order for those who missed it, and did not miss more than $1,000,000,000 for the repairs to periscopes, leaks and engines they cost us so far . After all, it is only about $50 per capita and so perhaps $500 per taxpayer. Nobody, I trust, but Bob “pretty-in-pink” Brown and his acolytes, would begrudge the money, had the submarines worked as expected or at least close to it. The saga commenced during the Bob Hawke (ALP) governmenance almost thirty years ago when Oberon-class submarines were to be replaced. For some incomprehensible reasons, i.e. incomprehensible to a citizen hoping to get some protection for the tax extorted from him, but entirely fiscally logical to the politicians, defence procurement specialists, their families and mistresses, a Kockum 471, at the time on the Swedish drawing boards, was selected. In 1987 Mr Ken Aldred, MP mentioned in the Parliament, “…the possibility that the type 471 has been penetrated by Czech intelligence …”. The original estimate of two hundred million per submarine was increased five-fold, a billion each. Of the six only two, sometimes in good weather three, can be allowed to go out, which means three billion dollars of acquisition costs just for one (almost) working boat. It is planned that Collins-class submarines would be retired by 2025. That means about a billion dollars p.a. in maintenance costs for two or three sea-worthy submarines.
Last year alone the Canadian taxpayers gave $45 million to the Navy to repair/refit the British-built HMCS Windsor. The joke commenced in 2007 and with a bit of luck, the submarine will submerge again in 2013. The other three are doing even better, at least as far as the Chinese People Army Navy is concerned. HMCS Victoria was in water for only 100 days in the last ten or eleven years. HMCS Chicoutimi caught fire on her maiden voyage in 2004 and hopefully will taste sea water again in 2012. So for the original purchase price of $891 million for four, Canadians have one, HMCS Corner Brook, so far, fingers crossed, functional, ignoring of course such inconsequential details as broken torpedo tubes, bad welds in the hull and acoustic tiles falling off.
Russian problems (?)
The Russian Federation of the Most Democratic Republics saved money needed for decommissioning by threatening to sink their obsolete submarines lock, stock and reactor in the Atlantic and thus got money from a US taxpayer to modernise its navy. Naturally. Chinese military expert Sun Tzu was advising to pretend you are weaker: “He who is skilled in defense hides in the most secret recesses of the earth, making it impossible for the enemy to estimate his whereabouts… O divine art of subtlety and secrecy!” The Russian military are past and present masters of maskirovka. Hopefully, everybody is familiar with a script allegedly written by Count Potemkin in 1787 when roubles earmarked for regional infrastructure and defence were diverted to other uses; women and vodka in that instance. The script remains the same, US dollars pay for modern submarines and Putin directs the performance. The sub-plot in Le Carré’s 1989 spy novel The Russia House touches on this subterfuge designed for the gullible western eyes.
Perhaps a story from the Eastern Front c.1943 would be a good illustration. A few attacking Panzers came under fire from the Russians’ artillery. One got hit and stopped, the others retreated. Russians, undoubtedly and understandably conserving ammunition, considered the tank to be no longer a danger. Whilst they listened to the German radio communications, they did not understand the German and had no means of knowing which message is from which tank. An hour later, the attack was renewed and this time it was successful. The crew of the disabled tank had the time to observe the Russian defence positions, locations of the guns and reported accordingly. Also, whilst unable to move, it still could fire with devastating effect due to the proximity of the targets. The story is well known, and likely to have occurred, with some variations, more than once. I believe the Russians did finally learn and applied it against Germans. It is more than likely that they are applying the same stratagem today.
Therefore I would not be surprised to learn that the Russian navy is in much better shape than it appears, and is getting better and better every day. Maybe the Russian “problems” are just a Potemkin village; perhaps the all-seeing CIA replaced shortsighted Empress Catherine II.
Luckily Israelis have no such problems, though their luck is entirely self-made. TheIsraeli navy currently has three submarines of the Dolphin class and is about to get two more brand new German made and updated Dolphins. Recruitments to submarine service increased by 30% and Israeli submarines carry cruise missiles with nuclear warheads. For those that may not be familiar with geography, the Australian coastline, which has never been protected by more than three submarines at any one time, is nearly 100 times the size of Israel’s. Hmm…
Meanwhile back in Australia
For a frighteningly long time there has been no parliamentary will to build and maintain something at least resembling credible defence. The White Paper – Defending Australia in Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030, provided for twelve long-range submarines (again not even on a drawing board) but White Papers are written by public servants who have nothing to do but to be ignored by politicians who have better things to do. [see Ludwig von Gress: Kos prani a kytice slibu, (June 2009 ) and among others also published here on Fog of Chaos, 25-07-2011] In her very first Federal Budget Julia Gillard reduced the Defence funding by a staggering $4 billion. The people’s will is another matter altogether, and as I am not a Marxist, I am not going to claim I speak for the masses. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that people are interested in defence matters and are more aware of potential threats to Australia than the public service experts would lead us to believe. Our 1.8% of GDP for defence of very vulnerable Australia is laughable. Thankfully, some experts woke up and started writing about our Strictly Surface Submarines, so perhaps I ought to leave it to them. After all, whatever I would write today, they will undoubtedly discover on their own in three years’ time.
* * *