SingaporeSome more information has come from the US about the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine acquisition – and it’s no wonder the information is being suppressed in Australia. We will receive nothing tangible for the $3 billion we are donating to the US – it will just add to the profitability of companies that are already doing very well. Who in Defence and government agrees to these things? What is the possible justification? And sorry – we will only receive second-hand Virginia class submarines when the construction of new ones exceeds the needs of the USN, which will take a while. After that, we start to examine the Hunter class frigate program and why Australia is paying so much for so little.

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Kym Bergmann is the editor for Asia Pacific Defence Reporter (APDR) and Defence Review Asia (DRA). He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism and the defence industry. After graduating with honours from the Australian National University, he joined Capital 7 television, holding several positions including foreign news editor and chief political correspondent. During that time he also wrote for Business Review Weekly, undertaking analysis of various defence matters.After two years on the staff of a federal minister, he moved to the defence industry and held senior positions in several companies, including Blohm+Voss, Thales, Celsius and Saab. In 1997 he was one of two Australians selected for the Thomson CSF 'Preparation for Senior Management' MBA course. He has also worked as a consultant for a number of companies including Raytheon, Tenix and others. He has served on the boards of Thomson Sintra Pacific and Saab Pacific.


  1. Thanks. I increasingly struggle to understand why the RAN is so obsessed with building Hunters instead of other cheaper options, or continuing building new or updated Hobarts. Hobart is not perfect but is a proven design, now operating reliably.
    Calling one a frigate and the other an air-warfare destroyer is misleading. Hobarts have ASW capability with hull & towed sonar, same ASW torpedo and helicopter as Hunters.
    Recently updated spec from ADF shows Hunter has less crew accommodation than 1800 tonne lighter Hobarts (234 vs 208). So where is this future growth margin?
    Defence continually underestimates design and delivery risk of new designs. They are obsessed with getting “the best” at any price. They forget best value, and we wind up with too small fleet to meet agreed force structure.
    RAN also have a very pro-British slant, which is unfortunate given recent UK shipbuilding. QE carriers, Type 45 destroyers, and Type 26 frigates have ALL been over time, over budget and with engine problems. So were Astutes.
    As for subs, why were French nuclear (Suffren) SSNs not good enough? French navy is confident they can match Russian SSNs and SSKs in Atlantic and Mediterranean. Chinese subs are generally considered inferior to Russian. Do we have any expert advice that Suffren SSN would be inferior to Chinese SSNs? I’ve not seen it.

    • The only argument against the Suffren is that because it is powered by LEU the reactor needs to be refueled every 10 years or so. The process apparently takes about 2 weeks and is incorporated into a 6 month refit period. Refits for the Virginia class take around 2 years, but the HEU reactor never needs to be refueled. I think the issue deserves for more study than what Australia gave it, which was precisely zero.

      • Kym yes I am aware of that argument on Suffrens. Over t8me it might become possible to refuel them here. Suffren is designed with a hatch to facilitate the refuelling. LEU reactor cores do not breach the NNPT, so we could store additional cores for refuelling here. The Lucas Heights medical research reactor is LEU and has already been safely refueled (by Areva Technicatom, the French firm who refuel the French navy SSNs). An SSN reactor is larger but we could do it with practice. We would literally have ten years to learn the skills. The reactor cores in Suffrens cost about €200 million each. Not cheap, but in the context of this program cost…
        Worst case they could be refueled in France as you say.

  2. The entire procedure to Aquire any piece of ADF equipment is shrouded in mystery and can not be known to mere mortals( any body not in CASG or Procurement) . The statement “It’s Classified “ seems to be used more as a arse covering exercise than anything to do with National Security, Your Podcast is right on the money about the ludicrous decisions being made about AUKUS and the Hunter Class Project. If the Government Bodies running the Projects were in Private Enterprise they would be sacked ( though in their defence most of the People are subject to Policy and Procedure that are not rational). I don’t have any problem with Nuclear Subs, they are the Ferrari of Underwater vessels But Australia would be better served with a Holden Ute. If we were getting the boats now I can see the point but in Twenty to thirty years , not so much. The same rationale applies to the Hunter Class ,though personally I think it’s a bad design ( the Hunter Class not the Type 26 in it’s original form) Their is obviously some very high up decisions being made for some very specific reasons that the Australian Public wouldn’t like. [ I recently read an article, not sure of the source credibility, that stated ,to gain U.S. agreement and participation in AUKUS,Australia must buy the Virginia Class or no deal, have you any information on such a condition]

    • During the last 20 years Defence has become almost entirely inward-looking with only the most limited engagement with industry, think tanks, the media and the general public, hiding behind totally ludicrous levels of secrecy. When you get any group of people voluntarily detaching themselves from daily reality it’s not a surprise that they start coming up with bad ideas, collectively convinced of their own infallibility. That’s a big generalisation and there might be some exceptions, but I’m not aware of many. No one except a handful of participants knows what Australia promised to get US agreement for AUKUS – though it does look like the UK did most of the heavy lifting for us so it’s probably more a question of asking Westminster what they promised Australia would do – after all, we are still a colony of theirs.

  3. I’ve just finished several articles by Rex Patrick ( whom you mentioned in the podcast) and they are very startling. The litany of mistakes and mismanagement would not be a surprise to anyone who has had the misfortune of dealing with ADF Procurement (25 years of ripping my hair out) .It’s astounding that this level of incompetence has been allowed to continue through successive Governments. It’s high time accountability be written into these people’s Job Descriptions and get people that know what they’re doing into the job.


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