|A RADICAL plan is being pushed by a group of senior Australian submariners.
It is to retire two Collins-class submarines immediately and fast-track the purchase of four ready-made submarines from Europe.
The proposal, which has been sent to both the federal government and the opposition, reflects growing concern among some former senior naval officers that the government's plan to build 12 of the world's most sophisticated conventional submarines is flawed and unrealistic.
The proposal comes after Treasury last week urged the federal government to buy more off-the-shelf weaponry.
The former submariners say that Australia cannot afford to wait until 2025 for the new submarines and must take urgent action to buy off-the-shelf submarines from Europe to progressively replace the under-performing Collins-class fleet.
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No-show by subs slammed The Australian, 5 Aug 2010
It's up to us, says Collins sub boss The Australian, 4 Jul 2010
We all lose if we buy subs off the shelf The Australian, 4 Jul 2010
Torpedo a $400m embarrassment Adelaide Now, 20 May 2010
SA chases submarine billions Adelaide Now, 31 Jan 2010
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"Australia should rapidly acquire four locally built military-off-the-shelf (MOTS) submarines to address the submarine availability issue and address the growing capability gap between the Collins-class submarines and the modern submarines proliferating throughout the region," said Rex Patrick, a former submariner who assists the navy in undersea warfare training and who has authored the proposal.
"The Collins-class submarine program has been an unmitigated failure and two of the submarines should be decommissioned immediately (the HMAS Rankin and HMAS Collins) -- they are not available anyway, there are no crews for them and maintaining them is placing an ever increasing burden on the navy's budget."
The Rudd government's defence white paper committed to building 12 large, sophisticated submarines in Australia to replace the six Collins-class boats from the mid-2020s.
The plan to build 12 large homegrown submarines has been costed by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute at more than $36 billion, making it the nation's largest ever military project.
The government says it is still committed to the controversial plan, but there is growing debate in the defence community about whether such a large, complex and time-consuming project makes strategic and economic sense.
Mr Patrick argues it would be cheaper and easier for Australia to purchase proven off-the-shelf submarines from Europe, such as the German Type 214 or French Scorpenes, rather than try to build a new generation of unique, homegrown submarines like the Collins.
He said a military off-the-shelf submarine would meet Australia's strategic needs at a fraction of the cost of building a new class of Australian submarine.
Under his plan, the first boat of an initial batch of four MOTS submarines would be operational for the navy within five years and the remaining three in under eight years.
The first batch would be supplemented by two more batches of similar, but perhaps modified, design in the years ahead.