Astute austerity

Ludwig von Gress

Not long ago I came across some old (2007) news about a British Navy new submarine and I could not resist:

She is four years late and a massive 900 million over-budget. But when the Royal Navy’s super-sub HMS Astute finally arrived, she made for an awesome sight. More complex than the space shuttle, and able to circumnavigate the globe without surfacing, the 7,400-ton monster is the largest and deadliest hunter-killer submarine ever built. Her nuclear-powered engine will propel her through the water at more than 20 knots, yet the UK’s first stealth sub makes less noise than a baby dolphin, making her as good as undetectable by enemy ships. The sonar is so advanced that if she was lying in the English Channel she would be able to detect ships leaving New York harbour 3,000 nautical miles away.

The nuclear reactor will never need refuelling, and with an ability to make oxygen and drinking water out of sea water, the sub could stay underwater for its entire 25-year life span were it not for the needs of the crew. She will carry 38 Tomahawk cruise missiles, with a range of 1,240 miles, and Spearfish torpedoes, but will not carry the UK’s nuclear tipped Trident missiles.”

No nuclear warheads? Was that the condition of the Chinese loan? Astute was the first of four vessels to be built by BAE Systems at, supposedly, a total cost of 3.85 billion. That is 962 million each, and if the first boat was 900 million over the budget… my arithmetic fails me.

Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall cracked a bottle of beer brewed by the sub’s crew on her prow to officially name the ‘boat’, in Navy jargon, before she was gingerly wheeled out of her shed at the stately speed of one metre per minute.”

I trust she did not name it in Navy jargon, but hopefully, in her mother-in-law’s English. I also trust it was the submarine which was wheeled out of her shed at the Civil Service speed, not the Duchess, unless Camilla had previously cracked a few of those to her unfamiliar bottles and sampled the yellowish liquid, which almost certainly was not brewed on the prow, but according to the Royal Navy tradition, in the engine room. The Chinese budget flow-chart obviously omitted to provide for a bottle of the French champagne, the another ancient British custom.

Either lack of a proper christening liquid, or some other austerity measure caused the “stealthiest submarine ever built in Great Britain’” to run aground during a sea trial. Silt just outside of red and green buoys marking the channel under the Skye Bridge did not hear her coming.*

Cheap shots at the aristocracy, journalists and navigational skills of RN notwithstanding, any suggestions or dreams that Australia ought to buy Astute class submarines instead of embarking on “our way, right or wrong” naval procurement are just that; pipe dreams. Firstly, a nuclear, the most logical propulsion is out. A noisy herd (four legs good, two legs bad) bleats nuclear bad, algae good. Even the possible future (Malcolm Turnbull permitting) Liberal/National Federal Government would not have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the irrational but well financed anti-nuclear lobby. Secondly, there is no evidence whatever that the Brown/Gillard government has any interest in enhancing or even maintaining Australia’s defence. One Labor Minister of Defence had to resign because of his closeness to the Chinese secret service and the current one, Stephen Smith ought to resign because of his remoteness from Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen. Most of the Labor MPs, not to mention their trade union masters, in their formative years proudly marched with Vietcong flags. Thirdly, it could work and thus China can not permit it.

As most readers know the RAN Collins class submarines will begin to reach the end of their useful life from 2026. For the counters of military beans dates of this sort are flexible. The fighter-bomber F-111 came to service with USAF in1967 (with RAAF in 1973) and at that time was projected to last twenty-five years at the most. The carbon dioxide from the afterburners of our recently (November 2010) replaced F-111s still hangs in the air.

Our pink bats experts still ponder the specifications of Australia’s “Future submarine”. It seems that only one aspect that has been set in brownstone is “Not nuclear”. The advanced design work is to begin by 2014–15. Then – will China approve the blueprints? Still, if Labor Party is to be believed, we will have twelve of them by 2040 for mere $40 billion. In the meantime, we manage to man only two Collins submarines out of six (see von Gress – Strictly Surface Submarines) and the fantasy debate amongst the experts and the “experts” simmers. Evolve Collins? Lease USN Virginia class lock, stock and barrelfull of sailors? Buy British, sure can? Build here? Build anywhere? Build at all?

You can read it all or some of it here – Australian ObserverFuture submarine: informed debate needed / Australian Strategic Policy InstituteSubaqueana australis – the future evolution of Australia’s submarines / Royal Australian Navy - SEA 1000 progress report.

As a non-expert, I see the main problem in the lack of interest in defence, not to mention the will to defend Australia (von Gress- Maritime will), amongst the pink oligarchy and to the slightly less pronounced extent amongst the light-blue oligarchy. Again, people will be dying unnecessarily and politicians will be shedding crocodile tears. Austerity in the defence is not necessarily astute. Have we ordered enough white flags?


*/ the current, not much confidence inspiring state of the Astute program:

HMS Astute S119 Commissioned August 2010

HMS Ambush S120 On sea trials; in service 2013

HMS Artful S121 Under construction; in service 2015

HMS Audacious S122 Under construction; in service 2018

HMS Anson S123 Under construction, in service 2020

HMS Agamemnon S124 On order; in service 2022

HMS Ajax S125 Confirmed, order not yet placed; in service 2024


About Ludwig von Gress

Born in communist Europe, interested in defence matters on a macro scale, with a cavalry “devil may care spirit” from his grandfather and cautious effectiveness of asymmetric warfare approach from his guerilla father. He sometimes despairs that he may be the only one taking the defence of Australia seriously.
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27 Responses to Astute austerity

  1. Eliminate defense bureaucrats. The decision for expenditures should be conducted at a lower governmental level. Most regular Officers Soldiers, Sailors etc. know what they need.

  2. Or just build Nukes

  3. Ernest Hem says:

    Emasculation of the West proceeds apace.

  4. Cibulius says:

    I think the defence is too important to be left in the hands of timid accountants.

  5. dick hollow says:

    You write that Collins submarines will reach the end of their usefulness in 2026. I think they are useless already and Gillard/Smith promises yesterday are, as always, dishonest. The idea to to give something to the media so they can defend ALP defense policy, and start to plan the ‘future’ submarine sometime in the future.

  6. Alícia says:

    No hope anymore.

  7. Ernie says:

    Submarines will not help against millions of Chinese, loyal to China, already within our boarders.

  8. Harry. Knop says:

    It is the begining of the slide to military oblivion, following the moral decay.

  9. Maximo says:

    Highly energetic article, I enjoyed that bit.
    Will there be a part 2?

  10. Relax Abuso says:

    Military minds + bean counters = disaster. Luckily nobody can contemplate attacking Australia – China would not like it.

  11. recovery says:

    It is all academic now, isn’t it? With Obama about to be re-elected…

  12. Buckingham says:

    GB government will sell them to Saudis. What for submarines? All we need is proper sharia discipline.

  13. O. Senovah says:

    Will to fight is far more important than technology. China leads on both fronts.

  14. nikeman says:

    wow,damm good post

  15. Red Ram says:

    I always spent my half an hour to read this blog’s articles daily along with a cup of coffee.

  16. Tad Sion says:

    RN seems to be getting its act together, no thanks to the politicians.

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  20. crude Serb says:

    With the GB Government manipulated by migrant Muslims, there is no hope for RN.

  21. access baby says:

    You genuinely know your things… Keep up the excellent work!

  22. Torero says:

    Unilateral disarmament is the why to go. We save money and pride – hey we’been betrayed!

  23. bruno says:

    It is truly a nice and helpful piece of info. The defense is often overlooked in the ‘good’ times.

  24. Borker Duen says:


  25. Nikolas Theo says:

    In face of the ever increasing danger the West is disarming.

  26. Herr Klaus says:

    Submarines are not going to help Ukraine or Kazachstan.

  27. ィトン 財布 says:

    white flags will do you, gwailos

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