The Chief of Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Binskin has confirmed that Australia's six Collins class submarines will have their service life extended as earlier comments by Defence Minister Payne that Defence wouldn't be rushed on the rollout of the future submarine hold true.
The ABC report stated the first of the future submarines would be introduced into service between 2030 to 2033. Previously the first of the Collins class was due to retire in 2026. The former PM Tony Abbott said he was "flabbergasted" that the government had effectively pushed back the in-service date of the future submarine by almost ten years.
He told The Australian there was nothing more important than quickly replacing the Collins-class submarines, which he described as a "fragile" platform.
Head of Navy Capability Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead said while one or two of the current Collins Class submarines were expected to have substantial reworking, all six in the fleet would need to receive some form of upgrading.
"[It is] to do with communications and sonars. [We are] aiming to get that submarine through – not just from a whole perspective, but a capabilities perspective – through into the 2030s," he said.
A Service Life Evaluation Program was undertaken by Defence in 2012 to identify any issues that would prevent the Collins Class from achieving their indicative service life. The study also considered the possibility of a service life extension for the Collins fleet.
The study found there is no single technical issue that would fundamentally prevent the Collins Class submarines from achieving their indicative service life or a service life extension of one operating cycle for the fleet, which is currently around seven years, excluding docking periods. Based on the commissioning dates of the submarines, this provides an indicative service life of the fleet of 2031 to 2038.
In February 2014, the then Defence Minister Senator David Johnston stated the need for a lengthy extension of the in-service life of the RAN’s Collins class submarines to avoid any capability gap prior to introduction of the Future Submarine under project Sea 1000.
Nigel Pittaway wrote in October last year that Saab Kockums is proposing an upgrade to a number of the Collins-class boats, based on Sweden’s Gotland-class midlife upgrade.
"In Australia, you have decided on a new submarine program, which is fantastic, but it’s not going to be here for a number of years and it is a very big undertaking,” Saab’s senior vice president (Security & Defence Solutions) Gunilla Fransson said.
“I think there is an opportunity to make sure that the Collins is as close to a modern and new submarine that you can get, by increasing its capability and delivering a cost-effective solution for your underwater capabilities.”
In January, retired RAN weapons electrical engineer Chris Skinner said authorities needed to commit to extending the service life of the Collins class submarines sooner rather than later.
He said everyone appeared to be waiting for the Defence White Paper to be released but it would take time to choose the design and build the next generation of submarines, so there was no need to wait.
"The nature of that life extension has not yet had much public scrutiny and it's an area where the engineering professions and other professions need to do a great deal of work," Skinner said.