A submarine is something that keeps water off the combat system and carries it to the battle”. At least that’s how we combat systems artificers used to view the situation. Putting an old submariner’s saying aside, however, the combat system is a very important component of a submarine’s capability and it deserves some attention in this series on SEA 1000.

7th Oct 2011

 SEA 1000


 Rex Patrick / Sydney

A submarine is something that keeps water off the combat system and carries it to the battle”. At least that’s how we combat systems artificers used to view the situation. Putting an old submariner’s saying aside, however, the combat system is a very important component of a submarine’s capability and it deserves some attention in this series on SEA 1000.

There are some who suggest that the obvious combat system choice for our future submarine is the one that is common to Los Angeles, Seawolf, Virginia and Ohio Class boats. The suggestion is made, not necessarily because it is the best system on the market, but because it would leverage off the investment already made in the AN/BYG-1 acquired and modified for the Collins Class submarines. This takes place under a US armaments co-operation program - the investment that is made by the US Government in a program designed to cater for more than 70 submarines, and because its selection constitutes the path of least resistance. There is some merit in this argument, however it skirts around some important factors that must also be considered.
This article seeks to broaden the SEA 1000 combat system discussion.

Combat Systems Defined
Before proceeding, and because the nomenclature here in Australia has become muddled, it is important to define what is meant by a submarine combat system.
Dealing with its functional elements, a combat system consists of a number of sensor sub-systems such as sonar, ESM, electro-optical, radar and other instrumentation sensors. Added to this are integrated communications sub-system for internal and external communications, a navigation sub-system to allow for tactical navigation and to provide a geo-reference frame for the Tactical Picture. Finally there is a Command and Control system for the fusion of sub-system data into a comprehensive and accurate Tactical Picture and for subsequent engagement/weapon control and a digital storage sub-system for recording both raw sensor and processed data.
Dealing with its functions, a combat system is used to carry out mission planning, tactical picture compilation, tactical evaluation, engagement, intelligence collection, defensive operations and general support functions such as communications, navigation, recording and training.
Modern submarine combat systems are highly integrated from a physical, electrical, software and functional perspective. Data from the sub-systems are presented using a a consistent look and feel and based around a single operating paradigm. A well-integrated solution can afford the user a significant advantage.
A US Combat System on Collins?
Having established the definition of a combat system, reference to a US Combat System being installed in the Collins Class submarines must be recognised as technically incorrect. On Collins we have a combination of sonar arrays and processors from DSTO, General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, Sonartech Atlas and Thales, an ESM system from ITT, periscopes from Thales, a federated navigation system with components supplied from numerous international companies and a USN AN/BYG-1 Command and Control System.
In contrast, the Combat System on US submarines consist of a range of sonar arrays and processors which have been bought together under a Lockheed Martin ARCI program, a Lockheed Martin AN/BLQ-10 electronic warfare system, two Kollmorgan AN/BVS-1 photonics masts, a federated navigation system, a Lockheed Martin Common Submarine Radio Room communication system and a Raytheon AN/BYG-1 Command and Control System.
So fundamentally we do not have a US combat system on the Collins Class submarine.
SEA 1000 Options
Unconstrained, one might think that the selection of the combat system for SEA 1000 might be based predominantly on its capability and perhaps its sustainability and upgradability.
However, the reality is that project risk and value-for-money have to come into play, causing Defence to be cognisant of the affinity that exists between the various submarine builders and the combat system providers. For example, it is unlikely that Australia would procure a HDW Type 214 submarine and ask that it be fitted with a Thales SUBTICs System. Likewise, it is unlikely that Australia would procure Navantia’s S-80 and abandon the Lockheed Martin SUBICs system fitted to it. Mixing and matching doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So, what are the obvious submarine and combat system packaging options?
If Australia were to procure a Scorpene submarine from DCNS it would undoubtedly be fitted with a SUBTICS Combat System. This would include the Thales S-CUBE sonars sub-system, an Argos or Thales ESM sub-system, SAGEM or Thales periscopes and/or optronics masts, a SAGEM integrated navigation system and the standard SUBTICS Command and Control System. The SUBTICS Combat System is sea proven on Chilean, French, Malaysian, Pakistani and Singaporean submarines. It is contracted for delivery under the Indian and Brazilian Scorpene programs and the French Barracuda program.
If a Type 214 were to be procured from HDW, an ISUS-90 system would be fitted to the submarine. This would include the Atlas Electronik CSU-90 sonar sub-system, an Elbit or SAAB Avitronics ESM sub-system, Zeiss periscopes and/or optronics masts, a Raytheon Anschulz integrated navigation system and the standard ISUS Command and Control System. In 2001 the ISUS system was assessed as better meeting the needs of the RAN for the Replacement Combat System for the Collins Class Submarines but the tender process was cancelled. Since that time ISUS-90 systems have been fitted to numerous sea going submarines around the world including those in Greece, India, Israel, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey. ISUS-90 is contracted for delivery to Israel for its Dolphin II submarines, the German Navy for its Batch 2 Type 212s and the Turkish Navy Type for its new Type 214s.

If the S-80 were to be procured from Navantia then it would come packaged with a Lockheed Martin SUBICS system. This includes Lockheed Martin sonar processing with ITT fixed arrays and an indigenous SAES Solarsub low frequency towed array, an Pegaso Systems ESM sub-system, Kollmorgan periscopes and/or optronics masts, a AVIO integrated navigation system and a Lockheed Martin Command and Control System. SUBICS is not yet sea proven, but the company points out in its marketing material that it leverages off experienced gained in the US Combat System program, where they are a key player, and the UK Vanguard SSBNs 2054 sonar upgrade program.

Kockum’s A26 program is too young to be able to spell out what combat system will be packaged with it. The sonar choice will be determined by competition with likely contenders including Atlas Elektronik, Kongsberg, Lockheed Martin and Thales. The ESM system is likely to be competed as well, but it is noted that the ESM solution used on the South Korean Type 214s is a product of SAABs South African daughter company, SAAB Avitronics. The Command and Control System may be a derivative of SAAB’s Gotland Class Sesub 940A system, but nothing appears to be set in stone.

All of the locked-in Combat System suppliers mentioned above state that their systems are “open architecture”, therefore allowing third parties to interface or integrate their applications into the system. Thales has recently completed a significant program to transform the proprietary 2076 sonar fitted to Royal Navy submarines into an open architecture format and have dovetailed this experience into their SUBTICS program. Atlas Elektronik are very comfortable reeling out examples of entities that have integrated into or interfaced to ISUS-90; Boeing, Kelvin Hughes, Kollmorgen, NUWC, Racal, Sonartech Atlas and Thales. It is also noted that Atlas Elektronik has successfully released Combat System source code to customers who require it, for example Israel, or placed it into escrow, as happened for Portugal. Finally, Lockheed Martin would consider themselves champion advocates of open architecture. The reality is that “open architecture” is easy to achieve from a technical perspective, but the solution is more often hamstrung by legal, commercial or security restrictions placed on the system.

MOTS and a US Combat System
Whilst there is strong sentiment for Australia’s future submarine to be fitted with a US Submarine Combat System, the arguments for doing so would probably not stand up to performance, risk and value-for-money scrutiny.

The notion that the US Combat System is the best product in the game has recently come under question. A 2009 National Defense Industry Association report to the Secretary of the Navy stated US undersea warfare capability was asymptotically approaching mediocrity and that the spiral development process used by the US Combat System program had become the antithesis of significant capability development. More recently the US Navy’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation indicated that the AN/BYG-1 struggled in difficult high-contact density environments and that that ARCI sonar was not effective against threat diesel-electric submarines and not suitable for most operations. These reports, coupled with stories of numerous submarine forces, including the RAN, doing well in exercises against US submarines, have cast enough doubt on the systems performance to make the blanket suggestion that it is the correct answer for SEA 1000.

The issue of tailoring would also need to be addressed before committing to a US Combat System. Australia’s experience to date in influencing the direction of the US Command and Control System has been poor. Testimony by Defence at Senate Estimates has revealed that, despite the talk of “rapid insertion”, no Australian applications have managed to get through the US Advanced Processor Build regime for the AN/BYG-1. Despite the system being promoted as open, commercial and security issues have locked out very talented Australian entities, including DSTO, from injecting capability inside the AN/BYG-1 boundary. Unless there was substantial demonstrated change, signing up to a US Combat System would see our submarine operators boarding a bus with little idea of where the bus was heading and no ability to influence the driver. It would almost certainly also result in the death of local industry innovation and capability in the submarine combat system domain.
Even if the performance reports were ignored and the tailoring issues were overcome, the recent mood of the Labor and Liberal parties to adopt low risk acquisition paths may quash any chance of proceeding down the US Combat System path. Using the sonar as an example, there will be substantial work and risk associated with porting the US ARCI solution to the future submarines (or worse, from a US submarine to Collins and then again to the future submarine). Porting sonar signal and display processing from one submarine with particular array geometries, hydrophone spacings and sampling rates to another submarine with different array geometries, hydrophone spacings and sampling rates would not be insignificant. Those familiar with the UK’s 2076 submarine sonar program will appreciated how long it took an OEM to convert functionality from its own proprietary system to its own open system architecture with no change in arrays and little change in functionality. Anyone who thinks a port would be a simple affair has little sonar domain real life experience. In May this year the Acting CEO of the DMO, Mr Warren King, acknowledged under Senate Estimates testimony that porting the US sonar system to Collins would effectively constitute a development program.
Then there is the issue of cost. Noting the RAN has already made the significant investment in the AN/BYG-1, the cost of porting this Command and Control system to the future submarine would be minimal. However, the same would not be true for acquiring and porting the remaining components of the US Combat System. This would involve a significant premium over the price of a packaged Combat System. Unless there was a significant capability differential, which is unlikely noting the reports and stories above, such an approach would fail in the value for money test.

Perhaps most significantly of all, the weight, space, cooling and power consumption implications of the totality of equipment included in a Combat System designed for a nuclear powered submarine will prevent its installation on Australia’s future submarine. Australia has already experienced difficulties with respect these footprint issues with the AN/BYG-1 Command and Control system installed in the 3400 tonne Collins Class submarines. When the ARCI sonar sub-system and the common radio room are thrown into the mix, significant problems will be encountered. Space demands will almost certainly exceed availability and power requirements will erode total submarine performance. It is not unreasonable to presume that the power load requirements of a US Nuclear Submarine Combat System would be of the order 100 KWs greater than the power requirements of a Combat System optimised for conventional submarines. This extra power consumption would have a substantial impact on the submarines indiscretion ratio and could affect the submarine’s radius of action by more than 800 nautical miles.
Lockheed Martin inherently recognises that the US Submarine Combat System is not suitable for conventional submarines, hence their investment to develop a dedicated conventional boat system, SUBICS.
Unless Australia goes down the path of building and designing its own large submarine, an unlikely outcome noting the Labor Party’s tacit rejection and the Liberal Party’s most recent overt rejection of such a plan, the case for mandating a US Submarine Combat System is weak.

Recent events being played out in Parliament and the media suggest that a large indigenous submarine design program for SEA 1000 is unlikely. This will see Australia, at least in the initial stages, procuring a close to off the shelf submarine. This series has argued that this is almost certainly a good thing. Modern off the shelf boats are highly capable and can achieve most of the Australian requirement at a fraction of the cost of an own design submarine program that attracts significant risk. Any strategic shortfall not met by a MOTS program could be filled in a number of different ways.
If Australia heads down a more conservative path to restoring a full submarine capability it must be recognised that the fitting of a US Submarine Combat System to a MOTS solution will come at significant cost and risk. The performance of the combat system, in the context of Australian requirements, is likely to be no better than existing conventional submarine Combat Systems and the impact on the platform and its associated performance is likely to be significant.
Those that think that the use of a combat system with a US pedigree is an important consideration for our future submarines might be better trying to weight the submarine selection process in favour of the Spanish S-80.

The Royal Australian Navy is a relatively small fish in a rather large ocean. In order to be effective in battle, the RAN cannot rely on numerical superiority. Rather, it must rely on a capability edge. There are a number of excellent combat system choices for our future submarines, but we need to recognise the affinity that exists between combat system providers and platform providers. There needs to be balance in the equation. We need to look at both in their totality and select a best overall capability. We should not veer from this line, even for the alliance reasons. Australia needs to concentrate on its submarine capability and manage the alliance, not the other way around.

APDR at a glance