By Peter Yule and Derek Woolner
ISBN 978052186894364 pages Cambridge University PressHardcover, $36.95
A unique and outstanding military and industrial achievement, the Collins class submarine project was also plagued with difficulties and mired in politics. Its story is one of heroes and villains, grand passions, intrigue, lies, spies and backstabbing. It is as well a story of enormous commitment and resolve to achieve what many thought impossible. The building of these submarines was Australia's largest, most expensive and most controversial military project. From initiation in the 1981-82 budget to the delivery of the last submarine in 2003, the total cost was in excess of six billion dollars. Over 130 key players were interviewed for this book, and the Australian Defence Department allowed access to its classified archives and the Australian Navy archives. Vividly illustrated with photographs from the collections of the Royal Australian Navy and ASC Pty Ltd, The Collins Class Submarine Story: Steel, Spies and Spin is a riveting and accessibly written chronicle of a grand-scale quest for excellence.
The Collins class of submarine built by Australia have been dogged by stories of faulty computer programming which greatly added to their costs. While these boats were under development was also the same time the personal computer revolution was going on. If the boats had’ve been developed a few years later, costly software development would have been negate with COTS (commercial off the shelf) applications which may have done the job better than purpose written computer coding.
Australian politics of recent years was also tied into this program and made for much of the negative press which came from political mudslinging. Labour Party stalwart Kim Beazley was the face of the program early in the development, so much so that after taking power, the Howard government seriously considered cancelling the program just to embarrass Beazley who they thought was their potential rival for power.
The Collins class was a Swedish design, which the leftist Australian Labour Party wished to emulate. They considered Sweden to be the socialist Utopia and hence greatly helped in the selection of this design.
The combat suite from Atlas of Germany was selected for the Collins class which was bitterly opposed by the US Navy. Under tremendous pressure, the superior German technology was dropped in favour of American.
Sadly the text doesn’t go into the US brow beating on the torpedo question. Threats of being excluded from participation in US exercises and programs if the MK48 ADCAP torpedo was not selected. This lead to the first of class HMS Collins being invited to undergo sound and torpedo trials at the joint US/Canadian torpedo range at Nanoose Bay in British Columbia and the secretive US SSBN sound range in Alaskan waters. While at Nanoose Bay, this reviewer became only the second media person to ever get onboard HMS Collins after the Australian version of 60 Minutes.
The book was very well researched and what items may appear missing are probably still classified. This easy readable work is highly recommended.