Showing posts with label Australian defense. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Australian defense. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Trump’s arrival is a great danger for Australia

Many Australians persist in believing that Trump’s USA is still the friendly ally that would get them out of trouble immediately if ever any nasty event were to occur… such as, for example, an Asian nation trying to force its way into their vast unprotected treasure-trove. If such an attack were to take place today, Australia would be totally incapable of looking after herself. Today, the world observes the way in which Trump is going into action in the economic world, removing the USA from the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). Trump is changing the long-established US role in trade with Australia. Tomorrow, similar destruction could well occur in the traditional US role in Pacific defense. In that domain, seeking assistance from China, say, would be a little like jumping from the frying-pan into the fire. Help from Old World democracies such as France and Britain would be a more reassuring solution. The best solution of all for my land of birth would be an accident from God that chased away forever the ginger-headed Fascist tyrant.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Submarine leak

Let’s suppose you’ve just ordered an impressive automobile, made in France, and that you suddenly learn that detailed technical descriptions of the manufacturer’s electronic devices for automobiles have just been stolen. As a future owner of a product from that French manufacturer, you might feel worried.

That kind of situation has just arisen in Australia concerning their massive order for French submarines. In a nutshell, the Australian press has revealed that a massive leak has been detected, apparently in India (?), concerning a model of the Scorpène submarine, manufactured by the French shipbuilder DCNS, and sold to the navies of India, Malasia, Chili and Brazil.

Worker at DCNS

Scorpène submarine

Let me point out immediately that the Scorpène is not the model sold to Australia, whose order concerns the Barracuda submarine, quite different to the Scorpène. Not surprisingly, France and the French manufacturer DCNS will be carrying out an in-depth investigation into the Scorpène leak. For the moment, nothing indicates that this Scorpène leak might present the slightest problem to Australia's future maritime defence.

You might subscribe to The Australian in order to obtain an original article on this leak. Here are some extracts of this article that were sent to me this morning by a political contact:

Our French submarine builder in massive leak scandal

The French company that won the bid to design Australia’s new $50 billion submarine fleet has suffered a massive leak of secret documents, raising fears about the future security of top-secret data on the navy’s future fleet.

The stunning leak, which runs to 22,400 pages and has been seen by The Australian, details the ­entire secret combat capability of the six Scorpene-class submarines that French shipbuilder DCNS has designed for the Indian Navy.

A variant of the same French-designed Scorpene is also used by the navies of Malaysia, Chile and, from 2018, Brazil, so news of the Edward Snowden-sized leak — ­revealed today — will trigger alarm at the highest level in these countries. Marked “Restricted Scorpene India”, the DCNS documents ­detail the most sensitive combat capabilities of India’s new $US3 bn ($3.9bn) submarine fleet and would provide an ­intelligence bonanza if obtained by India’s strategic rivals, such as Pakistan or China.

The leak will spark grave concern in Australia and especially in the US where senior navy officials have privately expressed fears about the security of top-secret data entrusted to France.

In April DCNS, which is two-thirds owned by the French government, won the hotly contested bid over Germany and Japan to design 12 new submarines for Australia. Its proposed submarine for Australia — the yet-to-be-built Shortfin Barracuda — was chosen ahead of its rivals because it was considered to be the quietest in the water, making it perfectly suited to intelligence-gathering operations against China and others in the ­region.

Any stealth advantage for the navy’s new submarines would be gravely compromised if data on its planned combat and performance capabilities was leaked in the same manner as the data from the ­Scorpene. The leaked DCNS data details the secret stealth capabilities of the six new Indian submarines, including what frequencies they gather intelligence at, what levels of noise they make at various speeds and their diving depths, range and endurance — all sensitive information that is highly classified. The data tells the submarine crew where on the boat they can speak safely to avoid ­detection by the enemy. It also discloses magnetic, electromagnetic and infra-red data as well as the specifications of the submarine’s torpedo launch system and the combat system.

It details the speed and conditions needed for using the periscope, the noise specifications of the propeller and the radiated noise levels that occur when the submarine surfaces.

The data seen by The Australian includes 4457 pages on the submarine’s underwater sensors, 4209 pages on its above-water sensors, 4301 pages on its combat management system, 493 pages on its torpedo launch system and specifications, 6841 pages on the sub’s communications system and 2138 on its navigation systems.

The Australian has chosen to redact sensitive information from the documents.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it was important to note the submarine DCNS was building for India was a completely different model to the one it will build for Australia and the leaked information was a few years out of date. Nevertheless, any leak of classified information was a concern.

“We have the highest security protections on all of our defence information, whether it is in partnership with other countries or entirely within Australia,” he told the Seven Network today.

“But clearly, it is a reminder that, particularly in this digital world, cyber security is of critical importance.”

Influential senator Nick Xenophon said he would pursue the security breach when parliament returns next week.

Senator Xenophon, who leads a bloc of three senators, said Australia needed serious explanations from DCNS, the federal government and the Defence Department about any implications for Australia.

“This is really quite disastrous to have thousands of pages of your combat system leaked in this way,” the senator told ABC radio.

Sea trials for the first of India’s six Scorpene submarines began in May. The project is running four years behind schedule.

The Indian Navy has boasted that its Scorpene submarines have superior stealth features, which give them a major advantage against other submarines.

The US will be alarmed by the leak of the DCNS data because Australia hopes to install an American combat system — with the latest US stealth technology — in the French Shortfin Barracuda.

If Washington does not feel confident that its “crown jewels’’ of stealth technology can be protected, it may decline to give Australia its state-of-the-art combat system.

DCNS yesterday sought to ­reassure Australians that the leak of the data on the Indian Scorpene submarine would not happen with its proposed submarine for Australia. The company also implied — but did not say directly — that the leak might have occurred at India’s end, rather than from France. “Uncontrolled technical data is not possible in the Australian ­arrangements,” the company said. “Multiple and independent controls exist within DCNS to prevent unauthorised access to data and all data movements are encrypted and recorded. In the case of India, where a DCNS design is built by a local company, DCNS is the provider and not the controller of technical data.

“In the case of Australia, and unlike India, DCNS is both the provider and in-country controller of technical data for the full chain of transmission and usage over the life of the submarines.”

However, The Australian has been told that the data on the Scorpene was written in France for India in 2011 and is suspected of being removed from France in that same year by a former French Navy officer who was at that time a DCNS subcontractor.

The data is then believed to have been taken to a company in Southeast Asia, possibly to assist in a commercial venture for a ­regional navy.

It was subsequently passed by a third party to a second company in the region before being sent on a data disk by regular mail to a company in Australia. It is unclear how widely the data has been shared in Asia or whether it has been obtained by foreign ­intelligence agencies.

The data seen by The Australian also includes separate confidential DCNS files on plans to sell French frigates to Chile and the French sale of the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship carrier to Russia. These DCNS projects have no link to India, which adds weight to the probability that the data files were removed from DCNS in France.

DCNS Australia this month signed a deed of agreement with the Defence Department, ­paving the way for talks over the contract which will guide the design phase of the new ­submarines. The government plans to build 12 submarines in Adelaide to replace the six-boat Collins-class fleet from the early 2030s. The Shortfin Barracuda will be a slightly shorter, conventionally powered version of France’s new fleet of Barracuda-class nuclear submarines.

Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said his officials believed the leak had “no bearing” on the Australia’s submarine program.

“The Future Submarine Program operates under stringent security requirements that govern the manner in which all information and technical data is managed now and into the future,” Mr Pyne’s office said in a statement.

“The same requirements apply to the protection of all sensitive information and technical data for the Collins class submarines, and have operated successfully for decades.”

Monday, August 19, 2013

Nuclear submarines for Australia

Several years ago, I brought up the important subject of Australia's antiquated submarine fleet, and the question of an ideal replacement model:

— 26 December 2007, Australia's submarines [display]

— 2 January 2008, Australian arithmetic [display]

I evoked the idea that Australia might examine the feasibility of a French nuclear-powered vessel such as the Barracuda.

This interesting question of nuclear-powered vessels has given rise to a recent report entitled Nuclear submarines for Australia [display]. A link to the original green paper on this subject written by specialists at UCL [University College London] can be found here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Australia's future fighter planes

Two-and-a-half years ago, on 1 March 2010, my blog post entitled Australia's choice of fighter planes [display] suggested that my native country would do well to compare the French Rafale with the aircraft on order, the US Joint Strike Fighter.

Towards the end of last year, doubts concerning the evolution of the US project provoked a statement by the Australian Minister of Defence.

His words were reproduced in The Sydney Morning Herald dated 7 December 2011 [display].
Australia has set aside up to $16 billion to buy 100 of the planes, but the Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, has already warned that any cuts to the program could force Australia to reconsider its orders for the fighter beyond the first 14, which are to be delivered by 2014 at a cost of $3.2 billion.
Today, in the French press, there's an interesting article [display] entitled Et si Dassault convainquait les Américains d'acheter le Rafale? That tongue-in-cheekish title asks a rhetorical question: And what if Dassault convinced the US to purchase the Rafale?

In the Breton city of Brest this morning, at a colloquium on European defense, the director of Dassault, Charles Edelstenne, took to the floor for a totally unexpected little speech, which included the following statement concerning the US project, whose total costs have skyrocketed by 50 percent in the space of a few years:
The present difficulties are just a beginning. As soon as the systems attain their age of maturity, things will become far more complex. The unit cost has already overtaken that of the Rafale, in spite of the fact that the volume of orders for the F-35 is ten times superior [to that of the Rafale].
He added jokingly:
The Americans call the program TINA, meaning "There is no alternative". On the contrary, an alternative exists: the Rafale, an aircraft that has been proven both technically and financially.

These remarks should be interpreted within the context of the so-called "Smart Defense" approach that might be adopted in Europe, involving the large-scale mutualization of defense resources, and a "Buy European" attitude. But Edelstenne's remarks might be little more than wishful thinking.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Australia's choice of fighter planes

I started my professional life in France, in 1965, as a technical writer concerned with the Cyrano radar system of Thomson-CSF for fighter aircraft. Later on, I worked in audiovisual production with my friend François de Rivals, former Dassault test pilot.

Last Thursday, February 25, 2010, a surprising article appeared in The Australian, signed by Cameron Stewart: Scientists warned defence department against Joint Strike Fighter [display]. The gist of this fascinating scoop is that a study carried out ten years ago by the internal group known as the DSTO [Defence Science and Technology Organisation] warned the federal government of the risks that would be incurred through a choice of the US aircraft known as the JSF [Joint Strike Fighter]. In spite of these warnings, the government of John Howard signed an order in 2002 to purchase a hundred JSFs for $16 billion: the biggest Australian defense purchase in history.

Today, I would not be particularly dismayed, retrospectively, by this secretive Aussie style of doing defense business were it not for the fact that the DSTO study contains scathing criticism of the other available options if Australia were to reject the JSF choice. These options included, in particular, the US F-15E and the French Rafale. According to the article in The Australian, the study concluded that the French aircraft had weaknesses described as follows:

"France's Rafale had an unreliable and weak engine."

"Rafale has short-term shortfalls in engine and radar performance."

Insofar as the virtual JSF product, at that time, existed only on paper, it can be said retrospectively that Australia plunged blindly into the US program, inspired primarily by Howard's attachments to his time-honored protector. Today, it's too late to change things, but the publication of last week's revelations in Australia demands an informal French reaction concerning the unjust criticism of the illustrious Rafale fighter, which is a proven masterpiece produced by Dassault Aviation.

Last December, during a giant international encounter organized by the United Arab Emirates, the Dassault Rafale, in spite of its "unreliable and weak engine" and its "shortfalls in engine and radar performance", proved itself a superior killer. Today, the only aircraft that is in fact technologically superior to the Dassault Rafale is the American F-22. But it costs three times the price of a Rafale, and it's not a polyvalent aircraft capable of air/ground and air/sea actions.

Meanwhile, the American JSF project seems to be moving head-first into a brick wall of technical and financial problems... whose consequences will be felt inevitably, sooner or later, by Australia.

Believe me (or rather, believe Dassault and the facts):
There's nothing wrong with the Rafale!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Disappearing trick

As everybody knows [well, let's say, everybody with a good Catholic education], a strange event once took place on August 15. Mary took off skywards, literally, clothes and all, in what must be classified as the second case in world history of gravitational escape... not counting the flight of pterosaurs and phoenixes, and setting aside the hordes of angels and other heavenly creatures such as fairies, pixies, winged sprites and Irish leprechauns, goblins, hobgoblins, witches on magic broomsticks, etc. As everybody knows, prior to the so-called Assumption of Mary, there had been the equally spectacular Ascension of her son.

Compared with such happenings, the disappearing trick that occurred yesterday in the website of a high-quality Australian newspaper was a trivial stunt, but it's nevertheless interesting. Unless I happened to have been momentarily bewitched (which is not impossible, but rather unlikely), I claim to have witnessed with my own eyes a fascinating article, of a highly critical nature, on Australia's defense system. Now, this is an interesting topic that I've already mentioned in my blog:

Australia's submarines, 26 December 2007 [display]

Australian arithmetic, 2 January 2008 [display]

Expensive, aesthetic and nasty, 21 January 2008 [display]

I made a mental note of yesterday's article, saying to myself that it might be a good subject for a blog article... in spite of the fact that, these days, I no longer have much to say about my native land. Well, today, when I tried to find this article, I was surprised to discover that, overnight, it had completely disappeared into thin air, leaving no traces whatsoever.

In a neighboring domain, I have a trivial but significant Australian anecdote to relate. There's a web forum that gathers together Australian bloggers. A few weeks ago, I submitted a short calmly-written post concerning a question that has often interested me, particularly since my trip to Australia in 2006. Why does a supposedly prosperous nation such as Australia, with immense riches in the earth, continue to suffer from a relatively underdeveloped infrastructure (roads, railways, bridges, telecom, defense system, etc) ? I imagined that, since bloggers are supposed to be talkative and well-informed folk, I would get some worthwhile factual answers to my question. What I wanted to learn, in a nutshell, was the amount of tax from mineral sales that is actually invested in the Australian infrastructure. Alas, a forum moderator sent me a polite email to say that they were not prepared to publish my post.

Your discussion related to infrastructure comes very close to crossing the line relating to what is fair game on the Forums. We do not allow political discussions. I encourage you to steer readers to your blog if you wish to start a discussion in this area. I do not think that it would take long for any discussion along the lines that you have started to get political.

Will there be medals in Beijing for catching up with China in the time-honored game called censorship?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Death of a bloody Asian dictator

I was amazed and sickened to find a reputed journalist in The Australian coming out with a lengthy and laudatory obituary for Indonesia's Suharto. In praising the way in which Suharto slaughtered opponents after he came to power in 1965, Greg Sheridan writes: "It is difficult to imagine what Australia might have been like had Indonesia become a communist nation in the mid-1960s. Everything we know of Southeast Asian development and success would have been absent from history, and tyranny and social failure on a massive scale would have replaced it. Australia’s defence budget over three decades might have been three or four times as high as it was. We could have developed as a fearful, isolated and perhaps even militaristic society. This is all speculation, but a communist Indonesia would have fundamentally changed Australian history."

What a curious style of thinking aimed at justifying retrospectively the emergence of a bloody tyrant. Sheridan paints a depressing picture of Australia standing apathetically on the sidelines and applauding the efforts of a dictator doing his appalling dirty work in a neighboring nation. Is that really the spirit of foreign affairs in Australia?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Expensive, aesthetic and nasty

An inspired TV journalist once asked the Dalai Lama: "Can your beliefs in reincarnation and your unbounded respect for all forms of life be reconciled with the case, say, of a mosquito that's intent upon settling on your arm and sucking your blood?" The grinning Dalai Lama said he would try to shoo the creature away. The journalist insisted: "But what if the mosquito fails to go away, because it's determined to bite you?" The Dalai Lama broke into typical laughter and made it clear by a few unmistakable gestures that, in such circumstances, the creature stood a good chance of being squashed to death. I admired the Dalai Lama's suggestion that it's all very well to have lofty principles... but, if an alien creature is attacking you, then it's perfectly normal to exterminate the vicious little bugger. [On the other hand, maybe I totally misunderstood what the wise man was saying.]

I can't say I've ever felt the need to respect religiously all forms of life, because I grew up in an environment where it was quite normal to kill various animals: snakes, rabbits, hens, ducks, etc. It's true, though, that I was overcome by pangs of guilt for several days, at around the age of ten, after having shot an unsuspecting bird with a catapult. [Even today, I remain so marked by that anecdote that I recently wove it into my fictional biography of Master Bruno, the medieval hermit who founded the Carthusian order of Christian monks.] I'm not cynical to the point of saying that rules are made to be broken, but I believe that we have the right—and the obligation, at times—to stretch them to their breaking point... and what the hell if they snap! That's why I like the Dalai Lama's loose attitude towards offensive mosquitoes, as opposed, say, to the dogmatic outlook of many Christian prelates concerning aborted foetuses or human stem cells.

In a neighboring moral domain, I've never been an all-out pacifist, either. For example, I've always been horrified by the alleged "turning the other cheek" principle of Christianity [which, I believe, has rarely been put into regular practice]. If I had been a Christian in one of Rome's martyrdom arenas, I would have used every possible means at my disposal in order to kill the beasts before they killed me.

And that brings me to the subject of the present post: modern machines of destruction. I was happy to see that some privileged Australian military personnel have been undergoing training in France in the context of the purchase by my native land of several Franco-German combat helicopters of the Tiger class. Now, if you haven't seen these diabolical but fascinating beasts in action, you might take a look at the following spectacular video:

Jumping from helicopters to submarines [metaphorically], I feel obliged to add a few remarks concerning the subject I tackled briefly in my article of 2 January 2008 entitled Australian arithmetic [display]. Otherwise, I could be accused of expressing opinions and then leaving them hanging up in the air, without following them right on through. Let me repeat rapidly the essential points of my reflections concerning the high price of Australia's future submarines. The Australian press had announced that our country would be spending 25 billion dollars to build six diesel-powered vessels, and I made the remark that French nuclear-powered combat submarines of the Barracuda class can be purchased for 36% of that outlay: a billion euros per submarine.

At the same time that I made those remarks publicly in my blog, I got into direct contact with Ross Babbage, chairman of the Kokoda Foundation in Canberra. He's the man who actually signed the Kokoda paper #4 of April 2007, which was the main source of the media articles that had presented this submarine affair to the public, as explained in my article of 26 December 2007 entitled Australia's submarines [display]. Ross Babbage reacted kindly by sending me (airmail to France) a complimentary copy of his report, along with helpful explanations that clarify the situation considerably. Here are the precise words on this subject from the Kokoda paper #4:

... simply replacing the Collins Class submarines with a new class of six submarines would probably cost $12-$15 billion. Modernising and adapting Australia's total underwater capabilities to meet the needs of potential defence contingencies in the 2025-2050 timeframe would probably require expenditures in the order of $20-$25 billion.

In other words, we are down to a unit price of $2-$2.5 billion per vessel. Expressed in European currency, that's a unit price between 1.2 and 1.5 billion euros. It's still 20% to 50% more expensive than the ultramodern French nuclear-powered Barracuda submarine, but we're down to sensible figures. Incidentally, the expression "Australia's total underwater capabilities" includes, besides the six future submarines, such costly matters as RAN anti-submarine warfare capabilities and RAAF underwater-surveillance capabilities.

Now, the Antipodes blog is hardly the right place to get deeply involved in affairs of this kind. All I wish to say, by way of a conclusion, is that I was rather surprised by the relatively "lightweight" nature of the Kokoda paper, which is a tiny printed booklet of no more than 64 pages. I had been expecting that the so-called "paper" would be a dense fact-filled report stored, maybe, on a set of DVDs. On the contrary, it skims through the domain of submarines with no attempt whatsoever at attaining depth. Astonishing in the case of a report on submarines...

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Australian arithmetic

During my short trip to Australia in 2006, I was shocked to discover that there were no trains to a couple of NSW towns that I wished to visit (Braidwood and Byron Bay), and I was further surprised to find that the only way of crossing the river at Grafton was by means of the antiquated bridge over which I used to pedal my bicycle when I was a boy.

Since then, I've got into the habit of asking naive questions about Australia's infrastructures. Why do Australians never stop boasting about the fabulous wealth of their land, while still tolerating old-fashioned infrastructures that are often like those of a developing nation? A friend tried to tell me recently that the respective infrastructures of France and Australia cannot be compared because... there are three times as many tax-payers in France as in Australia. This analysis is rubbish, of course. When Australia sells a mountain of precious minerals to foreign purchasers, her potential income from the deal has nothing whatsoever to do with the number of Aussies paying taxes. It's a matter of complex political, economic and business considerations that determine what percentage of such wealth will return to Australian citizens, and how much will be left in the hands of greedy international capitalists. It's childishly naive to imagine that the quality of Australia's roads, bridges and railway lines depends necessarily and exclusively upon the financial resources resulting from income tax paid by Aussie wage-earners. That is not only bad arithmetic; it's bad politics. And you can't run a country on such idiotic principles. If indeed the mountains of minerals that we're peddling to foreign buyers don't enable the citizens of Australia to take advantage of decent infrastructures, then our nation's leaders should halt immediately the sale of these mountains of minerals, while we do some serious thinking about what has gone wrong.

Let me turn my attention to another kind of infrastructure. In my articles entitled Australia's submarines [display] and Nuclear energy [display], I referred to an aspect of Australia's future defense system that has given rise to articles in the local press over the last few days. All these articles repeat the same huge investment figure: some 25 billion dollars for six future submarines. Now, this is typically the kind of situation in which a citizen, instead of believing naively what he hears, has the right and the possibility to do some independent thinking. Let's talk in euros. The unit cost of each of Australia's future submarines amounts to 2.75 billion euros. And what is Australia going to receive for this sum? An old-fashioned vessel that runs on diesel oil. My God, that's a lot of cash for a diesel boat!

By way of comparison, let us look at the production of one of the world's most advanced nations in the field of nuclear-propelled submarines: France. It just so happens that France, like Australia, is currently planning to renew its fleet of six attack submarines. The future model is known as the Barracuda, and it will be constructed in the Cherbourg shipyards in Normandy.

The Barracuda vessels will, of course, be propelled by nuclear energy. So, they will be intrinsically far more sophisticated than Australia's classic vessels. And the Barracuda's unit cost price? One billion euros. In other words, Australia's classic submarine, to be delivered in 2025, will be 2.75 times as expensive as France's avant-garde nuclear vessel, to be delivered eight years earlier, in 2017.

Is there something wrong with my arithmetic? Or is there maybe something wrong with Australia's political thinking about the nation's allegedly high-priced infrastructures?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Australia's submarines

It has just been announced that Australia plans to build "the world's most lethal conventional submarine fleet". That curious expression is an example of the propensity to exaggerate whenever Australians talk about Australia. It's a little like referring, say, to "the world's most powerful horse-cavalry division". If foreign navies throughout the world were to reach a gentlemen's agreement with Australia to the effect that only classic diesel-powered submersible vessels would be employed in future underwater conflicts with the Royal Australian Navy, then we would probably be in a relatively comfortable situation. But, if an uncouth enemy were to ignore the rules of the game by using attack submarines of the nuclear-powered SSN class (not to be confused with submarines that actually launch nuclear missiles), then Australia's antiquated SSG models might not be nearly as "deadly" as claimed.

Australia's recent history in the submarine domain, dating from the Bob Hawke era and culminating in the existence of six faulty Australian-made Collins-class vessels, has been catastrophic, from both a financial and a technological viewpoint. Will the situation be better when these old-fashioned mediocre submarines (whose computer systems are off-the-shelf products from Raytheon) are replaced around 2025 by the newer models, to be manufactured by the same shipbuilder?

As an outside observer knowing little about defense strategies in general and submarines in particular, I have the impression that the decision that has just been announced has been largely inspired by the cogitations of an Australian think tank named Kokoda.

For $22 you can even purchase a paper signed by Ross Babbage, dated April 2007, entitled Australia's Future Underwater Operations and System Requirements. Although I haven't yet invested in a copy of this report (and no doubt never will, because I've got more exciting stuff to read), I'm convinced that the decision of the Royal Australian Navy reflects intimately the thinking of the above-named author. So, it would appear to be a blatant case of one-man thinking. What a tank for submarines! Incidentally, at the Kokoda website, the summary of Babbage's report is accompanied by a quaint drawing:

Don't you agree with me that this rudimentary sketch looks like an illustration from an old volume by Jules Verne? If you look closely, you can even see a midget robot submarine that has emerged from the entrails of the mother vessel. Believe it or not, this is an authentic aspect of Australia's future submarine fleet. Vicious little unmanned tadpoles will be expected to do all the dirty work while the host vessel sits quietly on the seabed, trying to remain undetected.

Recently, I got into a discussion with an Australian friend concerning the antiquated nature of the transport infrastructure in New South Wales. I was thinking primarily of roads, bridges and railway lines. He reacted simplistically by claiming that the volume of tax revenues in Australia is insufficient to cover expenditure in this domain. Now, that sounds to me like naive bullshit. In Australia, the land is composed of metaphorical gold. Theoretically, there are more than enough riches in Australia's soil to build the world's greatest roads, bridges, railway lines and nuclear-powered submarines. There's enough uranium in Australia to power all the nuclear vessels of all the navies of the globe. The only vital natural resource that is totally lacking in Australia is political consciousness. The concept of statesmanship is unknown in Australia. Politicians get elected because they promise, say, to lower interest rates for wage-earners paying mortgages on their suburban houses. Australians voters simply don't comprehend the notion of electing an individual with political wisdom, vision, imagination and profound humanitarian moral principles (as distinct from the candidate's uninteresting personal beliefs of a religious kind). For loud-mouthed snake-oil candidates, seeking to be elected, mythical Australia is the richest land on Earth... and I agree with them a priori. But, for elected representatives of the nation, there's never enough cash in the coffers to build a safe road, a modern bridge, a decent train service or a self-respecting nuclear-powered submarine.

An article in this morning's The Australian says: Although Defence has not yet ruled out the possibility of Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, this option is considered highly unlikely on strategic, practical and political grounds.

Note the final adjective: political. That's what I was saying a moment ago: Australia is simply not mature enough, politically, to own a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. As the old saying goes, or might have gone: Every nation has the submarines it deserves.