Another (Australian) navy sub forced to dry-dock because of crew shortages
THE Royal Australian Navy is set to move the fourth of its six Collins-class submarines into dry dock because of crew shortages, undermining Kevin Rudd's plans for a massive upgrade in naval resources to counter a military build-up inAsia.
Defence analysts warned yesterday that severe skills shortages meant the navy could not crew its existing vessels, let alone new assets proposed by the Prime Minister in a major speech to the Returned and Services League on Tuesday night.
Mr Rudd told the RSL that financial prosperity in the Asian region was fuelling an arms race and that Australia must respond by upgrading its military forces, particularly the RAN, which has just 37 vessels, including six submarines.
While Mr Rudd mentioned no particular nations, his comments have been widely interpreted as a warning about China's continuing expansion of its navy, particularly its fleet of nuclear submarines.
As Mr Rudd intensified his language yesterday, saying Australia needed to be a "maritime power" and protect its shipping lanes to maintain trade, defence analyst Allan Behm said the RAN was struggling to retain highly skilled technicians.
Mr Behm, a consultant to universities and the defence industry, said that with three Collins-class submarines now inoperable because of crew shortages, the navy faced the real prospect of mothballing another within six months.
"This is now a real problem for the submarines and somebody has to be brought to account," Mr Behm told The Australian.
"(Chief of Navy) Vice-Admiral Russell Crane has a big task ahead."
Lowy Institute fellow and Australian National University professor Hugh White accused the Government of failing to demand action from senior Defence officials.
"Defence and navy has not delivered the capability required of them," Professor White said.
"Imagine what would happen if this was BHP and half their truck fleet was out of service."
Replying to questions from The Australian, Defence last night did not deny the allegations and defended its crewing arrangements to protect its submariners from stress.