Careful reading of Senate Estimates’ Hansard – specifically that of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee – is invariably repaid with information of varying importance unlikely to emerge elsewhere either timeously or at all.
The 5 April hearing was invigorated by a terse exchange between Senator Penny Wong and Rear Admiral Greg Sammut, head of the Sea 1000 program, on the percentage of Australian Industry Content (AIC) anticipated in the Future Submarine.
RADM Sammut explained that this was not yet known in the first three submarines – indeed, across the entire 12-strong future fleet – because the design process intended to maximise Australian industry involvement was still underway.
“When do you think you will be able to provide a percentage? At which point in this process – and please don’t give me another explanation of the process, we’ve done a lot of that – do you think you’ll be able to tell the Australian people and the government of the day what the percentages of the first one, two or three subs will be?” Senator Wong responded after several exchanges.
According to RADM Sammut, a good indication of the final figure is likely in the 2022-23 timeframe, on completion of the submarine design before moving into detailed design and production engineering. RADM Sammut also advised that the budget up to that point was about $4.5 billion.
Commenting on figures said by Senator Wong to have been given by then Defence Industry Minister Christoper Pyne, RADM Sammut said he understood 90 per cent had referred to the percentage of the build process of the Future Submarine in Australia. However, there had been no statement about what the actual content in the boats would be.
“We can’t state that until we complete the design process,” RADM Sammut said.
Five to six people within the Future Submarine team were looking specifically at maximising AIC and working closely in the defence industry policy area, RADM Sammut advised.
Other snippets gave further insights. Chief of Navy Michael Noonan confirmed that two of the RAN’s six Huon-class Minehunter Coastals were sold last year – the first official confirmation the sales had taken place.
“Circumstances changed, technology changed and we did not have a requirement to deploy those vessels overseas in support of any contingencies that could have arisen in the initial life of the vessels,” VADM Noonan responded to Senator Rex Patrick.
Defence told ADM that HMAS Huon and HMAS Norman were decommissioned in October 2018 after completing 18 years of service.
The propeller shafts and other major components were removed, the underwater fittings were sealed, and the ships were harvested for parts for the four remaining operational vessels and subsequently demilitarised prior to their sale to industry partner Australian Frontline Machinery.
Australian Frontline Machinery could not be contacted, but the company’s website stated both vessels had been sold.
VADM Noonan also disclosed that three aspiring RAN submarine commanding officers were currently undertaking the notoriously-demanding ‘Perisher’ course run by the Royal Netherlands Navy.
Lastly, according to Assistant Minister for Defence David Fawcett, four and sometimes five of the six Collins-class submarines are now regularly available for tasking.