Town Hall Briefing

France fires first in battle for submarines job

France has ramped up the battle for the $20 billion submarine contract by claiming its submarine is more deadly than Japan’s.

The submarines are certain to be discussed when ­Malcolm Turnbull meets Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Tokyo today, with Japan pushing hard to be chosen ahead of France and Germany to build the new boats in Australia.

But the French submarine maker DCNS yesterday fired a rare public torpedo at the Japanese bid, arguing that the proposed French submarine for Australia, the Shortfin Barracuda, would be more lethal than anything in the region, which includes Japan’s Soryu-class submarines.

DCNS Australia chief executive Sean Costello said the Barracuda’s pump jet propulsion, rather than propellers, gave it a major tactical advantage over other submarines in the region.

“In a confrontation between two otherwise identical submarines the one with a pump jet ­always has the tactical advantage,’’ Mr Costello said. “Australians should not assume all submarines are much the same — there are critical differences and the Australian government’s competitive evaluation process will ­determine these.”

Pump jet propulsion, which seeks to reduce noise and make the submarine more difficult to detect, is used by US Virginia-class nuclear submarines. DCNS claims that it will provide the Shortfin Barracuda with a higher tactical “silent speed” and increased ­manoeuvrability, compared with the proposed Japanese and ­German submarines that have propellers. The Shortfin Barracuda, which has not been built, is essentially a conventional version of the new 4000 tonne nuclear-powered ­Barracuda submarines that are being built at DCNS’s shipyard in Cherbourg.

The Prime Minister’s visit to Japan ­follows visits to France and Germany after being personally lobbied by all three countries seeking to win the bid to build at least eight new subs to replace the navy’s ageing Collins-class fleet.

Japan says it wants Australia to choose its own submarines — a longer-range version of its existing Soryu — to strengthen the three-way strategic partnership in the western Pacific between Japan, Australia and the US at a time of a rising China.

The three contenders for the submarine project will continue to lobby the Australian government despite the fact that each has ­already lodged its final bid with Defence and must now await the evaluation process, which could take up to six months.

The government is expected to use the defence white paper due in the new year to reveal the number of subs it wants and plans to choose the winning bidder before the next federal election.

Fearing a voter backlash, the government is likely to demand that most, if not all, of the new subs are built in Australia, a position that Labor supports.

A panel of independent ­experts, including Don Winter, a former secretary of the US Navy, will oversee the evaluation process to ensure each of the three bidders is treated fairly.

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The Australian
18 December 2015