Timeline: how Australia’s submarines have evolved from world war one to Aukus

Scott Morrison has announced a deal with the US for nuclear submarines. Here’s a timeline of Australia’s vessels since 1914

28 February 1914: Australia’s first submarine, HMAS AE1, is commissioned in Portsmouth, UK before departing for Sydney.

14 September 1914: HMAS AE1 strikes the sea-floor while diving during deployment near Papua New Guinea during the first world war. All hands are lost.

30 April 1915: HMAS AE2, Australia’s second submarine, is scuttled by her crew after five days of operations during the Gallipoli campaign.

8 April 1919: Britain “gifts” six second-hand J-class submarines to Australia. The ships are largely obsolete and in bad shape by the time they arrive. By 1924 they are sold off for scrap.

1 April 1927: HMAS Oxley is commissioned. Oxley and her sister boat HMAS Otway are modified British O-class submarines but after arriving in Sydney in 1929 they are returned in 1931 due to maintenance problems.

14 June 1952: The US Navy begins construction of the first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, in Connecticut. The submarine is launched 18 months later.

9 August 1957: The Soviet Union launches its first nuclear-powered submarine, K-3 Leninsky Komsomol.

22 January 1963: The revived Australian Submarine Service orders eight British Oberon-class submarines, though the order is later reduced to six. Over the next two decades of operation, Australia relies on the UK as a “parent navy” for 85-90% of maintenance, with refits costing 76% of the purchase price.

10 April 1963: USS Thresher becomes the first nuclear submarine to sink with the loss of all 129 on board after a mechanical failure causes it to sink to crush depth.

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May 1983: The newly elected Labor government puts out the first tenders soliciting proposals for the Collins-class submarine.

3 June 1987: A $5bn contract is signed to build six Collins-class submarines. Each submarine is to be built in six sections with Australian companies contributing 60% of the work.

29 June 1987: The Australian Submarine Corporation site in Osborne, Adelaide is selected as the facility to build the new submarines. The site is opened by Australia’s then prime minister Bob Hawke on November 1989.

February 1990: Work on HMAS Collins begins. Named after V-Adm Sir John Collins, the Collins class is a Type 471 diesel-electric submarine designed by Swedish shipbuilders Kockums.

28 August 1993: HMAS Collins is launched but not commissioned until 1996 as the ship is incomplete, with internal piping and fittings not yet installed. Sections of the hull are fitted with wood and painted black in preparation for photographs to be taken on launch. It will not be completed until June 1994.

31 October 1994: HMAS Collins begins sea trials but two of three diesel generators break down by the time it leaves Port Adelaide. Deep dive tests are put off until a submarine rescue vessel could be obtained in December 1995.

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27 July 1996: Eighteen months behind schedule, HMAS Collins is commissioned after several delays and problems. The other submarines will go on to be completed with fewer problems.

12 August 2000: The Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kursk sinks during exercises with the loss of all hands.

3 May 2013: A Defence White Paper announces that after the Collins-class submarines end their service-life, the country’s submarine fleet will be expanded to 12 submarines to be assembled in South Australia.

9 April 2014: The election of the Abbott government calls this commitment into question, but a review several months in finds the sustainability of Collins-class submarines have significantly improved by the project’s completion. Doubt looms over whether the next generation of submarines will be built locally and months of confusion follow about the future of the program.

9 February 2015: The then prime minister Tony Abbott announces a “competitive evaluation process” will take bids for new plans to build Australia’s next generation of submarines. Japan, France and Germany enter the running. Speculation over the details, location of the build and who will be preferred reigns.

26 April 2016: Malcolm Turnbull, having become prime minister, announces French company DCNS has won the $50bn contract to build the 12 submarines in Adelaide. The winning design involves a scaled-down version of the country’s nuclear submarine called the Shortfin Barracuda.

24 August 2016: Plans for a DCNS naval project in India are leaked, calling into question the company’s security months after the contract was announced, hinting at future problems.

14 January 2020: A report by the Australian National Audit Office finds the program has experienced a nine-month delay with costs blowing out to $80bn and gives the project a “high” risk rating.

24 February 2021: Costs on the project grow to $90bn with senior federal government ministers expressing their “frustrations”.

16 June 2021: The French president, Emmanuel Macron, and Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, hold a joint press conference in Paris where Macron declares “we’re by your side” in the face of growing tensions with China. Four days earlier, Morrison had secretly discussed abandoning the French contract in order to obtain nuclear submarines with the US president, Joe Biden, at a G7 summit in the UK.

16 September 2021: Scott Morrison announces he will tear up the French contract in preference for a new deal with the US to obtain nuclear submarines, but few details are included.


Royce Kurmelovs

The GuardianTramp

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