Australia is looking to Sweden to help shore up its old Collins-class diesel-electric submarines.
The submarines will have to work to extend their operational lives into 2026 as Australia seeks to close a capability gap before the first nuclear submarine is due at the earliest in the late 2030s.
Navy Chief Mark Hammond said the defense was working to eliminate the risks associated with the complex procedure to extend the life of the submarines by involving their Swedish counterparts.
“I’m learning from their Gotland submarines in detail,” the vice admiral said at the Senate projections hearing.
“It’s one of my top priorities.”
Representatives of Swedish defense company Saab AB have been living in Australia for the past six weeks.
The Collins class has also faced delays in availability over the past year due to COVID-19 and prioritizing other naval ship repairs.
Vice Admiral Hammond said the delay should be corrected within the next 12 months.
“But the total submarine availability in my previous role as fleet commander has been exceptional,” he said.
The additional cost of canceling the French Attack-class submarine contract has also been disclosed.
The total cost of the cancellation has been placed at $3.4 billion, which includes an $830 million contract-breaking fee for the French Naval Group.
But the government has set aside more than $290 million to retrain those who lost their jobs when contracts were cancelled.
Officials noted that this figure is a “no more” number, not an exact cost.
Defense bureaucrats said the cost of 219 jobs in three years includes not only salaries but also training, postgraduate education in nuclear science and activities that support future growth.
Officials said the money was not an additional sunk cost of the French contract and that the training would go towards Australia’s ability to operate nuclear-powered submarines when they arrive.
An additional $300 million write-down by the Australian Naval Infrastructure for a $470 million naval shipyard was also not included in the public total, given that it was not on the Defense Department’s books.
But some facilities could be reused for Australia’s nuclear submarine program.
Australian National University vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt told a submarine institute conference that the low number of students entering math and science majors is worrying.
“The tense labor market conditions we face in 2022 will cripple us in 2032 if we do not take immediate action to enhance our sovereign capacity,” he said.
He asked the government to classify nuclear management as a defense priority, which means funding will be assured.