There are more horrors to tell from the murky depths of under-performing defence programs. It is pretty much understood that the Navy can only get a few of its six submarines to sea for want of crew. There are many sub-sets of sad stories for the Collins class subs, what follows is just one of the scarier — and costlier — ones.

A report done in 1999 by two fellows named McIntosh and Prescott put down recommendations on how to best fix the ill-fated Collins class submarines. Nearly 10 years and many billions of dollars later, serious questions need to be asked about these submersible money pits.

The Defence Material Organisation or DMO is the focus. The DMO is a 7000-strong bureaucracy charged with cradle to grave management of weapons systems for the Australian Defence Force. The part that the DMO played in hobbling the Navy’s sub force is significant.

Two fire-control systems were up for consideration to help fix the Collins class subs. One was an American developed AN/BYG-1 system. Australian Industry offered to incorporate the far more advanced and working TDMS system for around $1.5 million a boat.

In the end, the American kit was selected to be the primary fire-control system. One boat is equipped with the AN/BYG-1 combat system while the another is in the process of having this system fitted. The Australian developed TDMS did make it on to two of the boats as a back up system.

In comparative trials with the American AN/BYG-1 system, both in manual and automatic modes, the Australian designed and developed TDMS system worked flawlessly. The same cannot be said for the AN/BYG-1 system. At the next upgrade of the AN/BYG-1 combat system, the automatic features which have been demonstrated by Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) trials not to work, will be deactivated. The taxpayer is being asked to pay for this.

The American system came with a high price and implied threat: use the US system or get pushed out of super secret technology sharing. The price of the American system? About 250 times more than the Australian one. Costs so far are over $3 million invested in the Australian system and around $750 million invested in the American system.

As with other Defence projects, DMOs cradle-to-grave management of programs is not only expensive, but potentially risky to the men and women who have to use them. Torpedoing effective Australian home industry and poor spending of taxpayer cash makes the DMO the enemy below. It’s time the public forced its politicians to have DMO management surface and answer for their misdeeds.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey