According to media reports, the Australian Minister for Defence has indicated that the Navantia S80 and DCNS Scorpene submarines do not meet Australian requirements outlined in the Defence White Paper. In my view this is not due to any failings in these submarines, but an unrealistic wish list of capabilities set out in the white paper. Essentially Australia wants 12 submarines with capabilities only available in nuclear powered vessels. However, such vessels would be politically and fiscally infeasible for Australia to acquire. The alternative contemplated appears to be a new, very large conventional submarine design. At present Australia is having difficulty maintaining the large conventional submarines it has. The probability of building an even larger and more complex submarine which would work is close to zero.
A better alternative for Australia is realistic requirements for its submarines, within the capabilities of what is available and affordable. The required range of the submarines should be reduced and submarine tenders purchased to re-supply the vessels at remote locations. The submarines should be designed primarily for surveillance and so have their armaments reduced to allow for better range. The ability to conduct deep strategic strike against land targets should be deleted, as this is technically very difficult, expensive and politically questionable. The vessels can be equipped for covert operations delivering special forces on shore, but this capability should be by offloading most of the armaments for such a mission, not by building a bigger boat.