In a blistering National Press Club address on Wednesday, France’s ambassador warned that Australia may have created a submarine capability gap of up to 20 years by cancelling the contentious $90 billion project with his nation.
Much of what Jean-Pierre Thebault said during his hour-long critique of the federal government is rigorously contested, but what is clear is that the navy faces a looming headache on how to replace its ageing Collins Class submarine fleet.
Acquiring nuclear submarines will take decades, and over the next year or so Defence is studying the numerous American and British options available, as well as the various regulatory and workforce hurdles involved.
Defence will begin the first comprehensive upgrade, or “Life of Type Extension”, on a Collins Class boat in 2026, meaning it can be kept in the water for another decade — until 2036, when it was scheduled to be replaced by the first French-designed Attack Class boat.
Similarly, a second submarine will have its life extended in 2028, with the subsequent decommissioning to occur roughly a decade later, and so on, until all six Collins Class boats are eventually replaced before 2050.
As recently as last month the Defence Force flagged that some Collins Class submarines could be kept in the water for another 30 years, with a yet unplanned second round of life extensions that would see some boats operating half a century after they first came into service.