Collins submarine to the rescue

An updated model of the Collins Class submarine would be an ideal replacement if Australia's new $50 billion fleet being designed and built by the French should run into insurmountable difficulties.

That is the opinion of Kim Beazley, who as Minister for Defence signed the contact for the Collins in 1987.

"The Collins Class is arguably the world's best conventional submarine," he said.

"The most sensible thing we could have done on submarine replacement would have been to iterate the Collins design.

"The government's gone down a different track. In a sense its reinventing the wheel. Now the French are very good and should produce a very good outcome but if they don't, going to an iteration of the Collins design would be a sensible plan B."

Collins Class submarines now enjoy a peerless reputation as the most lethal conventional submarines in the world, but not so long ago they were infamous as "Beazley's Blunder" and the "Dud subs".

The cabinet papers reveal how ministers were keen for news of progress on the Collins Class submarines, but delays in combat system software development meant that by mid-1994 slippages in the schedule for delivery were "no longer recoverable".

A progress report on the new submarine project also warned cabinet of industrial disputes, design problems and build difficulties impacting when the submarines would be ready for sea trials.

"Slippage in the delivery program for the first four submarines of from six to twelve months is now considered but the overall program is still able to be completed within the original time frame with the sixth submarine expected to be delivered no late than October 1999," the report said.

Mr Beazley said attacks on the Collins Class had made subsequent governments wary of building such a complex system again.

"It never got the reputation it should have got. The Collins Class submarine project is one of Australia's greatest engineering projects which was trashed for political reasons. The media in particular joined in the trashing, as did the political class," Mr Beazley said.

This story Collins submarine to the rescue first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.