8 Mar 2016

Defence Force eyes new submarine spotters

10:56 am on 8 March 2016

The Defence Force is set to ask the government for approval to upgrade the submarine detection systems on its Orion planes.

The White Paper includes an order for 12 new submarines.

Photo: AFP / Royal Australian Navy

Boeing has been chosen as the preferred tenderer if the upgrade, which will cost tens of millions of dollars, goes ahead.

The current underwater intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems are 50 years old, the same age as the P-3K2 Orion planes themselves.

Despite the former Labour government deciding not to upgrade the anti-submarine warfare systems more than a decade ago, the matter is back before the government.

The Ministry of Defence's outgoing deputy director of acquisitions, Des Ashton, said the current equipment was past its use-by date.

Defence spending was a matter of priorities and he expected a decision in the next few months.

"The strategic assessment that was carried out in the 2010 White Paper identified that this was a requirement that we needed to have.

"The old equipment has outlived its day and the new equipment that's available is far more capable and matches contemporary threats."

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee declined to comment until a proposal was presented to him to take to Cabinet.

But Labour Party's defence spokesman Phil Goff said he didn't believe the upgrade was necessary.

"I suspect that the reason that the government is going ahead is because they have been asked to go ahead by allied countries rather than our own evaluation."

Victoria University professor of strategic studies Robert Ayson said the upgrade was necessary.

"The South Pacific is not a heavy submarine area but New Zealand also operates further afield."

China and other Southeast Asian nations were increasing their underwater capabilities, he said.

The next Defence White Paper is due to be released later this month and will include updated plans to replace key defence assets, including the Orion planes.