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Tuesday, 9 November 1971
Page: 3137

Mr BARNARD (Bass) - There are many aspects of defence policy that warrant consideration in this debate. Because of the extremely restricted time span I intend to concentrate on one part of the Government's procurement programme, that is the DDL light destroyer programme. The 1971 Defence Report describes the DDL as a light, generalpurpose destroyer of about 4,000 tons and powered by gas turbines. The initial time scale for the DDL was from 1969 to 1976. This encompassed a preliminary design period of 12 months starting late in 1969, followed by a detailed design stage beginning at the end of 1970 and finishing at the end of this year.

Construction of the first destroyer would begin in 1972 and it be launched in 1976. The other 4 destroyers in this initial programme of five would join the fleet during the following 2 years. This time schedule has slipped very badly. The preliminary design study did not reach the Navy until September this year, almost a year behind schedule. The detailed design study which was to begin at the end of 1970 has not started, and it is unlikely to start until well into 1972. This will put the entire programme at least 20 months behind schedule.

So far $lm has been spent on the preliminary design phase. The Budget for 1971- 72 allocates $1.5m for spending on the detailed design stage. However, this money will not be spent until Cabinet approval is given for the detailed design stage, so at the moment the DDL project is suspended in a state of limbo. Little real work on the project can be expected before the next budget, even if the Government decides to go ahead with the DDL. The delays in the programme have been accompanied . by a quite remarkable increase in cost, undoubtedly as a result of the transformation of the Navy's concept of the destroyer.

In the initial programme the destroyer was conceived as a relatively cheap and modest vessel designed to fulfil one specialised role with significant back-up capacity in other roles. One destroyer would be designed to concentrate on an antisubmarine role, another on anti-ship, another on anti-aircraft, and so on. Each would have the ability to perform one major task with secondary capability in other areas of naval warfare. According to this rationale the destroyer had to be designed and built in Australia, because European designs were too small and United States and Canadian designs too big. As stated in the Navy News' of September 1969, the allpurpose class of ship was too big, too expensive and needed a bigger crew. This meant a light destroyer designed for Australia's requirements was needed.

At a Press briefing in March last year before a defence statement made by the then Minister for Defence. Mr Fraser, a naval spokesman described the programme in the following terms:

The general plan ls to build a batch of ships armed for general escort and interdiction duties followed by specialised ships for anti-submarine or anti-air duties.

Having made it clear that it did not want a sophisticated and expensive general purpose ship, the Government went ahead and blue-printed a sophisticated and expensive general purpose ship. The revision in plans and the higher cost were acknowledged by the Minister for the Navy (Dr Mackay) on 1st October. When referring to the project, he said:

We have to face the fact that these and greater costs are inescapable if we are to have ships of this size and sophistication.

The revision in the role of the DDL from a fairly simple vessel to a large, powerful and expensive destroyer performing a number of roles has been reflected in a spectacular cost escalation. The first estimate when the project was announced in September 1969 was under $20m a ship. When the preliminary design study was given to the Minister in September this year, he said the estimated cost was between $40m and $44m. According to evidence given to a Senate estimates committee last week by Mr Boreham of the Department of the Navy, the present estimate is between $40m and $50m. Even higher estimates ranging up to $85m a ship have appeared in Press reports.

It has been claimed that these figures are inflated by inclusion of the costs of improving dockyard and construction facilities which would be needed in any case to keep pace with Navy servicing requirements. But it is just as correct to say that unit costs of ships have a way of rising rapidly during construction. An example is the DDG guided missile destroyer procurement where the HMAS 'Brisbane', which was completed 30 months after the HMAS Perth', cost SI Om more. Even on the most conservative estimate of costs, it is difficult to see a programme of 12 light destroyers costing much less than a billion dollars. In this way a modest project which could have provided a versatile fleet of 12 destroyers at an acceptable cost has escalated into the most ambitious and costly procurement programme ever undertaken by an Australian armed service in peace time.

The scope of the projected DDL procurement makes the Fill look like a curtain raiser. The dramatic change in concept and cost is reminiscent of United States programmes such as the MBT 70 tank and the Cheyenne attack aircraft where the cost increases were so staggering that Congress vetoed them. The DDL programme is a prime example of the upgrading of a comparatively modest item of defence equipment by adding more requirements to cope with more contingencies. This is happening at a time when other navies are moving to simpler and smaller vessels with the emphasis on speed and missile armaments. By cramming so many roles into the one vessel and increasing its size the Government is also increasing its vulnerability.

There is increasing evidence that larger warships are outmoded and by contemporary standards the destroyer is one of the larger warships. With advances in electronics, automated weapons systems, lightweight rapid fire guns and self sufficient surface to surface missiles, a greater number of more powerful weapons can be installed on hulls of smaller displacement and serviced by smaller crews. It is not a sign of reduced naval strength but an indication of the advances in technology which astute navies can use to revolutionise maritime warfare. The trend evident in naval exhibitions and procurement by other navies is towards faster and smaller vessels of the light corvette and fast patrol boat types. With the rapid advances in armaments these are powerful warships, even in their smallest form. A destroyer of several thousand tons can be put at very grave risk by a missile boat or fast patrol boat of 200 tons. Along with these advantages this sort of vessel is still cheap enough to be provided in the numbers needed to build any creditable naval force.

The DDL programme goes completely against this trend and for this reason and what is certain to be its high cost, it does not seem to me to be the proper solution for the problems our Navy will face in the next few decades. It is far too costly to be provided in adequate numbers unless other parts of the defence budget are drastically revised. Even if the project is approved and goes forward, these destroyers would not join the fleet until the early 1980s. By this time the HMAS 'Melbourne' would have reached the end of its service life and there would be a requirement for air cover. In addition Admiral Crabb has pointed to the need for another DDG destroyer and another Oberon crass submarine if the vessels now in service are to be used with the utmost effectiveness. The Admiral has also stressed that Australia needs many more patrol boats. He might have gone further and pointed out that the fast patrol boats which other countries in the region such as Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia have or are acquiring are superior in speed and armaments to those in commission in the Australian Navy.

In summary, if the DDL project proceeds we can forecast a situation in the early 1980s where Australia lacks fleet air arm capability. There will also be serious deficiencies in other areas of naval capability. Against the evidence of present naval trends all our resources for deployment will have been thrown into the one enormously expensive project. The argument in favour of the FI 1 1 was that if we wanted a sophisticated weapons system of this sort we had to buy it off the shelf in the United States. It would not do to design and build a more modest aircraft in Australia, or alternatively to build a cheaper aircraft under licence or coproduction arrangements in Australia.

Now the Government is moving to do just the opposite; it wants to design and build an immensely complex and costly weapons system in Australia for the Navy. Yet the Government seems completely unaware of this blatant contradiction in its procurement logic. Of course there should be provision for local production and local design work, just as there should have been these provisions in planning for the Canberra bomber replacement. But it would be as much folly to try to do the DDL project solo as it would have been to design and build the Fill from scratch in Australia.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Hallett) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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