There are 600 submariners now but report warns 1,500 will be needed for new fleet.

Australia’s new multi-billion-dollar fleet of submarines may not be able to be taken out to sea unless the Department of Defence addresses a looming crew shortage, a new report warns.

The paper from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has raised concerns that workforce recruitment will be a huge future challenge when the navy transitions to a new fleet of 12 French-designed vessels from the six Collins class submarines.

The navy has historically had trouble recruiting and retaining enough submariners for the Collins submarines. It’s understood Australia’s pool of submariners numbers about 600 people but it would need to expand to around 1,500 for the new fleet. The Collins submarines generally have a crew of 55 during operations at sea but the new bigger vessels may need about 60-70 submariners.

“One of the key risks is developing the workforce because if you don’t get that right you’ve spent your $79 billion and you’ve got your submarines but you can’t actually take them to sea,” report author Marcus Hellyer told Guardian Australia.

“Once you take into account the increased size of the [new] submarines, doubling the number of them – and we’re still on a get-well path with Collins – I suspect it will be closer to three times the submariners we have now.”

Hellyer says the federal government’s estimated $50bn acquisition cost of the submarines is likely to be closer to $79bn once inflation is taken into account because Defence is employing a “cheeky” accounting trick. “I’m reasonably confident $79bn is in the ballpark,” he said.

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