Vice Admiral Michael Noonan has issued a stinging rebuke to recent media commentary regarding Australia’s submarine force and the multibillion-dollar SEA 1000 Attack Class submarine program.
Responding to commentary by Robert Gottliebsen of the The Australian, Chief of Navy, VADM Noon, has responded to the "incorrect media reporting" regarding the Royal Australian Navy's submarine force and the future submarine program.
Gottliebsen made a number of key statements in his article 'Government must explain submarine project decisions', raising important questions about both the existing Collins Class fleet and submarine force, and the multibillion-dollar SEA 1000 Attack Class submarine program.
"Last week I discussed how the combat system for the submarine was being provided directly to Australia by the Americans who were anxious that the French designers of the submarine not learn too much about it for fear they would leak the details of the combat system to the Russians, Chinese or anyone else," Gottliebsen articulated.
Building on this, Gottliebsen asserts, "Designing a new submarine where the two major suppliers are not allowed to talk to each other is almost certain to deliver a horrific outcome. And remember that the group that must tackle that challenge has underperformed on its previous, and much easier, challenges."
As part of his concerns, Gottliebsen again raises concerns about the delivery time frame of the Royal Australian Navy's future submarines, stating: "The next generation of manned submarines, according to Pope, will be major carriers of unmanned submarines and will co-ordinate the attacks of those unmanned submarines.
"We will not get our first old style submarine until 2035 or more likely 2040 – that is two decades away and the order won’t be completed until around 2050 – 30 years away. We are spending this enormous sum on a submarine that even before it starts development looks outdated."
Further doubling down on his claims, Gottliebsen claimed, "Its [Attack Class submarines] main attribute will be the US combat system but whether that can be made to work in a submarine designed by people not talking to the Americans remains to be seen. And even if it is installed our submarine will be incredibly vulnerable in any battle. Already sailors are reluctant to sail in the Collins Class submarine for fear that they are in a coffin. The French submarine will be much more dangerous."
In response, VADM Noonan has issued a stinging rebuke, stating, "Aside from entirely misinformed comments regarding the Future Submarine Program, I am particularly disappointed with the statement that our sailors are reluctant to sail in the Collins Class submarine.
"Today, the Collins Class is consistently performing above international benchmarks for availability, it has been maintained to the highest of standards and routinely upgraded, and remains a highly capable submarine."
Speaking to the increasing capability of the Collins Class fleet, VADM Noonan added, "Our Collins fleet deploys regularly at long ranges from its home port in Western Australia. In 2019 alone, this amounted to five deployments often involving two or more submarines simultaneously.
"This level of operational activity has also been reflected in the substantial growth of submariners over recent years. In 2013, there was less than 500 personnel in the submarine force, and today there are over 800 of our Navy people who confidently serve in our Collins Class submarines. They operate our submarine fleet in the most complex of operations, and are held in the highest regard by our closest allies."