The defence minister has said he remains confident the ageing submarine fleet would continue to meet operational requirements following reports of a technical issue with one platform while on deployment.
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According to reports first published in The Australian Financial Review, Australian defence technicians were recently sent to Hawaii to repair a stranded Royal Australian Navy Collins Class submarine, which experienced technical issues while on deployment.
This comes amid ongoing concern over the ageing fleet’s ability to meet operational requirements into the future, with the RAN’s next-generation nuclear-powered submarine capability, promised under AUKUS, unlikely to hit the water before 2040.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles has declined to comment on the reported incident, but has quashed concerns over the Collins Class fleet’s reliability.
“I think the point to make here is this in the broad; the Collins Class is meeting its operational requirements and those operational requirements in terms of the availability of submarines is really as good a level of operational availability as you will see in any submarine fleet in the world,” he told the ABC.
“What that means for our country is that we have a very agile and potent capability which is brought to bear by the Collins Class submarines, and they are doing a fantastic job for our nation.”
However, the deputy PM acknowledged fleet upgrades would be needed to meet the RAN’s requirements over the next few decades.
“Extending their life is inevitably going to be part of the process of filling whatever capability gap might arise, and it’s why we are really looking at how we can get the new generation of submarines sooner rather than later,” he said.
“But right now, the Collins are doing a really good job, and they are meeting the operational availability benchmarks.”
The deputy PM has not ruled out proceeding with the life-of-type extensions (LOTE) for the Collins Class fleet, promised by the former government.
The Collins LOTE program would involve rebuilding each submarine once it achieves 30 years of service, with each upgrade scheduled to take approximately two years.
The submarines would reportedly be rebuilt by ASC in Adelaide, with the work to be supported by Saab Kockums, the original co-builder of the fleet.
[Related: ASC opens submarine innovation hub]