Former US submarine commander Stephen Johnson has been appointed general manager of Australia’s biggest defence project, the navy’s new submarine fleet.
The retired rear admiral was in charge of the US Navy’s undersea technology in Naval Sea Systems Command, commander of the Undersea Warfare Centre and director of the Strategic Systems Programs, overseeing the TRIDENT II strategic weapon system.
According to The Australian, Johnson’s extensive experience running large hi-tech projects, including development of the Seawolf class submarine, earned him the politically fraught role.
Johnson will be responsible for choosing the $20 billion new submarines to replace the six existing Collins-class subs. The issue dogged the former Abbott government after the former prime minister broke a 2013 election promise to build the submarines locally.
It even cost former defence minister David Johnston his job after an outburst in which he said he wouldn’t trust the Adelaide-based government-owned Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) “to build a canoe”.
As part of a “competitive evaluation process”, Germany, Japan and France have put their hands up to build the new fleet. Read more on that here.
Speaking to ABC Radio in South Australia yesterday, new prime minister Malcolm Turnbull tried to distanced himself from the saga, including how many submarines will be built.
“Was that promise of 12 subs a lie, a misleading impression, or a bent untruth?” the PM was asked.
“Look, I’m not going to go back into the archaeology of what was said… I didn’t make that statement,” Turnbull replied.
“All I can say to you is watch this space, I am very committed to Australia having a substantial defence industry here in Australia. We’re committed to a substantial defence industry in South Australia, and you know that is already here, it’s a big part of your economy.”
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