From today’s Courier Mail –
After a $1.4 billion "upgrade" the navy's front-line fighting ships cannot defend themselves and are unable to be sent into battle. A navy whistleblower says sending the 4000-tonne Adelaide Class Guided Missile Frigates to war would be like sending a VK Commodore to race at Bathurst.
Senior officials admit the 1997 FFG upgrade project was a "debacle" created by the Howard government's decision to maximise the sale price of the Sydney-based contractor Australian Defence Industries when it was sold to the French firm Thales. The project is four years late, includes four ships not the original six and they just don't work. The navy informant told News Limited, which publishes The Courier-Mail, that the situation was so bad sailors were quitting because their ships could not be sent to the Middle East or any other conflict zone. Late last year, navy chief Vice-Admiral Russ Shalders refused to accept the first ship in the program, HMAS Sydney, for "operational release" because its war fighting systems did not function properly.
Whilst this story has all the characteristics of a beat up, there is plenty of evidence that defence procurement is in a parlous state. How it got to be that way results from a mix of circumstances, but confusing alliance with equipment selection was a hallmark of the Howard years. We’ve finished up with unsuitable heavy armour (M1A1 Abrams tanks), underperforming subs (Collins class vessels which whose hulls are OK, but are dogged with Raytheon fighting systems when Atlas ISUS 90 would have been more suitable) and Brendan Nelson’s individual decision, against the advice of the RAAF to procure Superhornets.
Surely defence procurement is one area which ought to be quarantined from political decision making or commercial vested interest. Our men and women in uniform deserve the best.
Another way of looking at the issue is to develop our own defence industry to the point where we don’t have to rely on anyone else. It’s possible, given time and resources, and would help us avoid the desperation that developed in the early months and years of the Second World War. Remember the “Boomerang”?