Future Submarines: SA lacks equipment to build French subs

SOUTH Australia is missing crucial equipment needed to build French submarines, putting at risk their proportion of the work.

The Advertiser has been touring French shipyards, including at Cherbourg where 10-metre high robot welders and enormous steeling pressing machines force the thick steel into shape.

Three different machines use pressure to force steel several centimetres thick into the shapes needed.

Heat cannot be used on the specific steel needed for the French Barracuda class submarines, on which an Australian Shortfin Barracuda submarine will be based if the French win the competitive evaluation tender.

Shipbuilder DCNS says SA does not have the machines but that Western Australia does.

WA is pushing for a larger share of work from the $50 billion project.

DCNS strategy and communications director Brent Clarke said the company had briefed Premier Jay Weatherill and Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith on their build strategy and that they wanted to maximise SA’s involvement, but WA already had the equipment.

“We have a more holistic approach and that’s to distribute the work throughout Australia,” he said.

“You don’t have the cold presses. You don’t have the rolling machines. You don’t have all the automatic welders.

“WA has all the auto welders and rolling machines to produce the cans.”

Perth company Civmec is keen for a big share of the building work. The Government has promised work will be “centred on” SA but is still in the process of picking an international design partner and a build option.

Civmec general manager former Royal Australian Navy Commodore Mike Deeks is part of a new division for submarine work.

They have said they will work with whoever is the lead contractor. They also are looking to get a share of the Future Frigates program.

Chairman James Fitzgerald has said shipbuilding work could bring up to 1000 jobs to the state. SA is hoping for about 3000 jobs.

Another WA shipbuilder, Austal, is jostling for work on the frigates as well as the Offshore Patrol Vessels, but they say they would build in SA if necessary.

Submarines and the ships have become highly political fodder. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised SA the bulk of the work as his stocks dropped and pressure from SA MPs built, but those promises sparked resentment from the other states.

DCNS, German shipbuilder TKMS and the Japanese Government will hand in their final proposals by November 30, after which the Government will pick one (or possibly two) of them. They will then decide which of three options to pick; offshore, onshore or a hybrid build.

The offshore option is effectively off the table already, and all three groups are willing to build onshore, which would maximise local jobs.

In a statement, Mr Hamilton-Smith said further investment at Techport “may be needed to build both the Future Submarines and Future Frigates”.

“The State Government will work with the Commonwealth and the private sector to deliver that investment,” he added.

Read more.

Adelaide Advertiser
18 October 2015