Monday, May 02, 2016

About those submarines...

It's been a little while since the Turnbull government announced it was going to go with a fleet of French designed, Australian built, submarines.  Twelve of them, in fact, but (as I understand it) to be built at a somewhat glacial pace.

A few observations, if I may:

a.  of course this will be criticised.  Surely the public has noticed that all major Defence acquisition programs look, at one stage or another, to have been a wrong decision: at least in terms of cost, and often in technical  ways too. So it doesn't matter which of the contenders had been chosen - any would have been criticised and would go wrong in one way or another.

b.  Apparently, Defence came out strongly in favour of the French bid.   Given that Abbott had told the Japanese, apparently on a handshake (and probably one of his stupid winks) that they had the deal in the bag, this gives someone like me who disliked PM Abbott decidedly mixed feelings.   On the one hand, it's deprived us of the criticism of the Japanese subs which would have been inevitable (see above), and hence the blaming of Abbott when the Defence preference was made known;  on the other hand, I have a sneaking suspicion that Abbott might have been right - the Japanese submarine probably would have been ultimately fine; cheaper too.  The Japanese remain good at hi tec stuff at a reasonable price.  The French do well in aerospace, but not sure about cost.   Is it silly of me to think I can judge a nation's likely submarine building capacity from their car making ability?   Because I would prefer a Japanese luxury car to a French one.   Not that I know anything really about luxury cars, either.

c.  The criticism of the contract is already starting, and, amusingly, it's the "delcons" who don't like Turnbull, such as Andrew Bolt, leading the charge.   All further evidence of the internal crisis in the Coalition.  Does Bolt really think he is doing the Coalition a favour by criticising them for making a decision that Defence wanted?  Or that he is helping Australia's diplomatic standing by dredging up what France did 50 years ago?   Once again, I sense a Turnbull "with friends like Bolt, who needs enemies" response coming.

d.  Twelve submarines?  Really?   As I have mentioned before, without a willingness to have Filipino seaman run them under contract, I thought we couldn't even manage [insert gender neutral word for "manning"] the 2 or 3 Collins class that are available at any one time.  And that's despite throwing money at sailors to try to convince them to become submariners.  Seriously, how does the government intend dealing with that problem?   And is there room for Labor to make political headway by announcing that if it wins the next election, it'll only be going to contract for 9 or 10 submarines, saving a substantial amount of money in the process?  I reckon there could be.

e.  Building them here was an inevitable result of politics trumping dry economics, but I have no big problem with that.   There does seem to be speculation, though, that what the Liberals are doing in concentrating spending in Adelaide and WA is going to be at the expense of votes in Queensland - especially with them not being able to at least throw Queensland the bone of some patrol boat builds. 

A somewhat more serious take on the economics of supporting industry (esp defence industry) can be found here at the Lowy Institute.

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