Sydney, Dec 26 : Fearing that the naval power balance in the Indian Ocean Region will be altered, the Australian Defence Ministry has approved an ambitious 25-billion-dollar programme to develop world's most lethal conventional submarine fleet that will be capable of carrying long-range cruise missiles and futuristic midget-submarines.
Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon gave the go-ahead to this new submarine plan within days of the new Labor Government taking oath of office.
The new fleet of submarines that would replace the existing Royal Australian Navy's Collins-class fleet in the next 17 years will be "larger, quieter, faster and a more deadly version" of the existing six Collins-class submarines, which, after a troubled birth in the 1990s, have proved to be one of the country's most important defence assets.
Though Defence Ministry officials have not ruled out the acquisition of nuclear powered submarines, it seems unlikely that Australia would opt for one considering "strategic, practical and political" reasons, the News.com.au reported.
"There is widespread agreement that submarines provide a vital military capability for Australia," Fitzgibbon said, adding, "The development of new submarines requires long-term planning and needs to progress quickly, and that's what I have asked for."
The report stated that the Australian Government's decision comes at a time "when regional navies such as Indonesia's, China's and India's are seeking to dramatically expand their submarine fleets, potentially altering the balance of naval power in the region."
The new 'mother' submarines will be able to launch small-unmanned mini-subs, which will have high-tech sensors and could travel tens of kilometres away from the mother vessel to conduct surveillance, detect enemy submarines or carry an SAS team, thereby providing complementary capabilities to any future underwater warfare platform.
Another important feature of the new proposed submarines will be the new generation air-independent propulsion systems that allow conventional submarines to stay underwater for longer periods.
They will have more flexible designs, allowing them to be quickly reconfigured for different types of missions, from intelligence gathering to strategic strikes, and will be able to carry long-range cruise missiles as well as short-range tactical land-strike missiles.
Though it is not clear how many 'mother' submarines will be developed under this new programme, it is certain that the programme is the largest defence project in Australia, dwarfing even the 15-billion-dollar Joint Strike Fighter project.
The Government hopes to complete its initial research into the options for the new submarines by 2011. (ANI)
© 2007 ANI