The Collins Class Submarine Story: Steel, Spies and Spin
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, first published in 2008, is a riveting and accessibly written chronicle of a grand-scale quest for excellence.
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An excellent history, well told, of one of Australia's largest and most complex engineering projects - the design and building of the Collins Class Submarines. Yule and Woolner have comprehensively interviewed most of the players in a project spanning more than 30 years from its inception in the Defence Department to the final delivery and problem rectification. The diesel-powered Collins subs had many teething problems and received some very bad press because of teething problems (now almost completely rectified) in the engineering and construction of a completely new class boats. However, compared to other submarine projects around the world, The Collins Class project is arguably the most successful one - especially considering that Australia had never built a submarine before. Although the basic design was developed by Kockums in Sweden, an experienced builder of small submarines and a pioneer in modular shipbuilding - due to Australian Navy requirements for long range, long endurance and stealth - the Collins boats are amongst the largest and most sophisticated non-nuclear subs in the world. Thus, the design, engineering and fabrication issues were significant. The other engineering issue that created many problems for the project, were the Royal Australian Navy's demands for the world's most advanced modular and integrated combat system - something that has yet to be achieved in full. However, the subs have been completed - with all of the subs being built in Australia, with some 70% of the work overall being performed in Australia by Australian based industries and supported by research efforts of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation. All of the issues except for some relating to the combat system have been solved (and there are workable interim solutions for combat system issues) to give Australia six of the world's most capable non-nuclear subs to help protect the island continent's vital seaways and maritime communications. Some of the necessary technology developed in Australia leads the world, e.g., the formation of special high tensile steel and welding technology required by the hull, and the development of sonar absorbing tiles better than anything used in the USA. Given that I have worked in the Australian defence industry myself for nearly 18 years in a parallel project almost as large and complex as the Collins Class Project, I have met several of the players and know a lot about the project myself. I find nothing in Yule and Woolner's story that seems untrue or even particularly biased. Anyone concerned with managing large and complex engineering projects will learn a lot about the human issues of project management from reading this book, and will find it hard to put down! My only negative criticism of the book is that the authors did not consider or reference any of the theoretical or case study literature relating to organizational behavior or project management that might have informed the discussion.