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article imageOp-Ed: Australia’s subs- Contract trash culture has to go

By Paul Wallis     Jan 27, 2010 in Technology
Australia’s Collins Class hunter killer subs are good vessels… When they’re able. The $6 billion worth of hardware is finally getting some critical looks long after they should. Four of the six subs are currently out of service.
This is due to “maintenance” issues, and nobody’s too impressed. There's been a long litany of problems, and enough is enough.
The list of issues and comments is growing literally by the second. The subs are suffering from electrical and other problems, and the blame is being placed on design and manufacturing. That should get a laugh out of anyone who’s been near a military organization. The fact is that Australia, like most Western nations, is way too soft on contractors.
When you buy a toaster, the theory is that you’re supposed to get a working toaster. Not, however, when you buy military equipment. The Royal Australian Navy, like the rest of the Australian Defence Force, has had its share of clown droppings as suppliers. This isn’t the first time the RAN has had that sinking feeling about quality issues. At one point the Collins subs were rumored to be one of the reasons for a major resurgence in mop manufacturing and floaties sales.
The subs have had some other problems, not least the strange tactical and strategic doctrines of those who’ve never worn the uniform and who shouldn’t be let loose in bath tubs with rubber ducks. The envisioned role of the sub arm has them doing everything including minor surgical procedures, and not a lot of emphasis on their real role. This is despite our ability to produce good surface vessels and let the subs get on with their work. That hasn’t exactly helped in terms of operational considerations and specifications.
In this wholesome environment, six otherwise perfectly good subs have been inflicted with the natural results of mating maggots and used car salesmen and telling them they’d make good defence contractors.
What is obviously not happening is that subs aren’t getting the primary say in these things. Contracting should work like ops, the people at the sharp end do the quality assessment. I’ve had a few drinks with the sub blokes, and they’re not whingers. They know what they’re doing, and they should be calling the shots.
Nobody should go anywhere near a defence contract unless they have full training and know how to refuse delivery of substandard materials and equipment. The ADF has had some serious and some expensive incidents as the result of sloppy contract supplies.
The Australian Submarine Corporation, which has had its share of criticism over the years since I saw its incorporation papers slide across my desk, isn’t the real problem. The real problem is a political and legal culture which has no bloody idea how to handle contracts.
Parliament should forget any thought of partisan politics and go after these bloodsucking sons of third rate toilet paper before someone gets killed. The ADF shouldn’t be a contractors rest home. Failure to deliver so much as a packet of weapons grade Twisties which isn’t up to operational standard should be considered breach of contract.
I’m the son of an ex Sergeant Major of the Rats of Tobruk, so like most children of the services, I take an interest in these things. If you’ve noticed a certain amount of vehemence in this article, it’s because I’ve been watching piles of pigeon crap like this for the last several decades.
May I also mention that if it ever becomes clear that doing so will help reinforce the requirement for contract standards, I will be happy to stick one of those subs up whichever orifice of whichever contractor most in need of appropriate education on this subject. So would any other son or daughter of any service person.
This is bloody intolerable.
Try and do something right for once in your lives, you bastards.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Royal australian navy, Collins class submarines, Australian submarine corporation
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