Year 2028; Deep Inside Enemy Territorial Seas … DTG 290040H FEB 28. Despite it being very early morning, the command team members were alert. Twenty minutes earlier the submarine had been brought to action stations after sonar had classified contacts 34 and 35 as two enemy destroyers. Commander Saunders had used the energy in her submarine’s lithium ion batteries to quickly close within visual range, then slowed and returned the boat to periscope depth. After conducting a target setup using the optronics mast’s fifth generation night vision capabilities and being satisfied with the updated fire control solution she returned the boat back below the layer, increased speed and set course for the intended firing position.
2nd Nov 2011
A TOTAL SUBMARINE CAPABILITY PACKAGE
Year 2028; Deep Inside Enemy Territorial Seas …
DTG 290040H FEB 28. Despite it being very early morning, the command team members were alert. Twenty minutes earlier the submarine had been brought to action stations after sonar had classified contacts 34 and 35 as two enemy destroyers. Commander Saunders had used the energy in her submarine’s lithium ion batteries to quickly close within visual range, then slowed and returned the boat to periscope depth. After conducting a target setup using the optronics mast’s fifth generation night vision capabilities and being satisfied with the updated fire control solution she returned the boat back below the layer, increased speed and set course for the intended firing position.
She was confident in her submarine and her crew, as well as her own expertise in getting the best out of both. They had been at sea now for almost 90 days, save for a two night stay in Exmouth to replenish fuels, food, stores and munitions and fix a couple of defects with support from the submarine tender’s maintenance crew. During this extended patrol they had conducted ISR, inserted Special Forces using the submarine’s lock-out chamber facilities, fired a salvo of land attack missiles, gone on to sink one enemy submarine leaving port and later three enemy vessels; such were the impressive capabilities of her submarine.
As the boat cut silently through the water, she paused to reflect …
Inputs to Capability
2005 through 2015 had been rough years for SUBFOR. Her father, himself a former submariner, had described the situation to her many times. Submarine availability had been poor causing, amongst other things, a decline in the crew experience levels needed to confidently conduct submarine operations. Furthermore the costs to sustain the capability had gone through the roof, draining scarce and contested funding from other critical ADF capabilities. Some had tried to champion a solution to the replacement submarine that would have seen the future submarine project venture down the same risky and unsuccessful project path the Collins Class submarine had travelled … at huge absolute cost to the taxpayer and incalculable opportunity cost to the ADF. Thankfully common sense had prevailed.
Commander Saunders now had the privilege of commanding the first submarine of the second batch; boat number four. It was a magnificent submarine that had been delivered ready for war. It was an evolved version of the three highly reliable MOTS boats that had been initially procured to arrest the decline in RAN submarine warfare capability. Her boat had the latest DSTO developed anechoic tiles, new indigenous sonar processing integrated into the open architecture Combat System and a raft of other local enhancements affordable because of the $26 billion delta in cost between the “Son of Collins” boat and the MOTS boat that was selected (although the Government of the day had major deficit problems at the time and used some of it to deal with that issue). Boat five was to get the new, highly classified, DSTO combined antenna mast unit, which unfortunately was not quite ready for insertion into the modular mast housing before her boat had sailed to war.
DTG 290047H FEB 28. “Possible Target Zig, Ma’am, Contact 34 and 35. Suggest a combined speed and course change”! She moved behind console 5 and observed the operator monitoring the auto TMA. “Very good, Designate Contact 34 and 35 as Master Contact 34 and 35”, she responded. Although she was confident that the system had a good handle on the situation she conducted the usual sanity check, comparing the system’s solution with her own mental picture. Everything seemed in order and she knew that, even if there were slight errors, the situation would easily be sorted out from own sonar data and from data fed back to the submarine via the fibre wire from the torpedo’s sonar.
She continued in her reflection …
Many people that think about submarine capability focus solely on submarines. But there is folly in that. A submarine alone does not make for a submarine capability. There are many inputs to submarine capability. These include the submarines and other equipment, defence and civilian personnel, supplies and logistics, infrastructure, organisation, training, information and intelligence and practised doctrine and tactics. It involved inputs far beyond the remit of the SEA 1000 project office, and indeed beyond the Capability Development Group (CDG) and Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO); the Joint Logistics Group (JLG), the Defence Support Group (DSG), the Chief Information Officer Group (CIOG) and the broader Navy to name a few.
Supporting a Submarine Force-in-Being
Various capability inputs are needed to acquire a submarine capability and then support it in service such that it meets its preparedness requirement. It involves inputs that occur across an extended time period up to and including the complete life cycle of the submarine platform.
Thankfully, the risk savvy and value-for-money path that had been taken with respect to the new submarine capability, and indeed other Defence Projects, had allowed appropriate funding to be allocated to properly raise, train and sustain the submarine capability and the wider ADF.
In the first instance, the acquisition organisation dealing with submarine related equipment procurement and ongoing enhancement, based on newly developed technologies and feedback from submarine users, had been improved substantially. In fact, it had improved so much that a posting to CDG was considered essential to those with senior naval officer ambitions.
Submarine R&D personnel, infrastructure and other resources had also been funded commensurate with the strategic importance to the ADF of a 12 strong submarine force and their impending numerical dominance in Navy. DSTO now included a larger scientific staff concentrating on submarines; not the entire submarine, per se, but niche areas where they had and were continuing to develop prototype capabilities for trial and handoff to industry as they had done throughout the 1980s and 90s. It seemed sensible to distribute development risk across multiple submarine capability providers, in manageable chunks rather than a single entity lock, stock and barrel ‘Son of Collins’ provider. Numerous submarine “skunk works” had now appeared in industry as a result of this policy approach.
The assignment of the newly acquired submarine tender, in fact a modified multi-role vessel, to occasionally perform as an oceanographic research vessel had also helped to reinvigorated research and understanding in the undersea warfare domain.
The use of the same submarine tender as a trials vessel, coupled with an enhanced RANTEA organisation, had served to provide SUBFOR with definitive empirical data on the capabilities of the submarine and its performance envelopes; something never achieved with Collins. Submarine Commanding Officers were now able to operate the boats to their limits, bad and good, with clear understanding. This had been particularly relevant for Commander Saunders during her submarine-on-submarine engagement a month prior.
In that same submarine encounter she had also been grateful for the dedicated undersea warfare TACDEV organisation that had been established in 2020. Even though still in its relative infancy, it had already helped establish comprehensive doctrine and developed sets of tactics for AIP submarines that had proved invaluable. Of course, while conflict was underway, plans to have one of the 12 planned submarines allocated to the tactical development organisation for evaluating and tuning purposes had been put on hold. Still, the situation was far better than it might have been if we had gone down the ‘Son of Collins’ path … we would likely be without any working submarines at this very serious juncture in time.
DTG 290052H FEB 28. “Approaching firing position for Master Contact 34 and 35, both tracking ma’am”. “Roger tracking solution Master Contact 34 and 35”, responded Saunders. Then, with command authority, she ordered, “Open 3 and 4 tube bow caps”. The order was repeated and executed. “Listen up everyone, don’t discount the possibility that their helos might take to the air or that one of their remaining submarines might be in the area”! She paused momentarily to allow the advice to sink in. “Load one tube with a sub-surface to air missile and switch console 6 to countermeasure planning”.
Commander Saunders revelled in the training of her crew. The training program for the new boats had built on the experience from the first batch of boats, the result being one of evolution ensuring RAN submarine crews were provided with the right information, knowledge and experience to conduct combat missions. The well-executed strategy had provided for a high level of proficiency across the majority of the crew, a point worthy of emphasis noting the minimum manning philosophy that had been adopted. Her crew had been provided with high quality theoretical, computer based, simulator and at-sea training at both the individual and command team level. High-end at-sea training against a well-equipped and well-practised RAN Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) fleet was now possible, thanks to an injection of $2 billion of the ‘Son of Collins’ cost differential. Funding had also allowed for other extra curricula personal and professional development training in areas outside of mainstream submarine operation and employment. It had been discovered that the knowledge of own equipment performance, the environment, the enemy and the employment of relevant tactics must be supplemented by innovation where appropriate, and in the last resort, by the decisive requirement of a war-like-spirit and audacious outlook. She had this in her Command Team.
Moving her thoughts to sustainment …
Without the burden of parent navy responsibilities SUBFOR had managed to optimise its sustainment activities. Localised repair facilities had been established in both Perth and Newcastle, the home of the east coast fleet after the NSW Government and cruise ship operators muscled the Navy out of Garden Island Naval Dockyard and Woolloomooloo. The new submarine tender allowed for a roving support base, currently forward deployed to Exmouth. Refit and serious repair needs were met by the Adelaide submarine builder.
The partnership with the submarine designer had facilitated establishment of a sound maintenance philosophy involving the right mix of organic and external maintenance. Good technical regulation had been set in place along with appropriate risk management, configuration management, change management along with maintenance analysis regimes. Abundant SADI industry training funding, possible because the Department had by and large rid itself of money sapping, design to requirement equipment procurement projects, had assisted in the training of civilian personnel involved in external sustainment support. The reliability of the submarines was outstanding with contracted operational availability locked in at well over 85%.
In-country sustainment of the Combat System was not an issue either. Not only did the DMO acquire the source code from the Combat System OEM, they had ensured personnel from the Australian based subsidiary and DSTO had a solid understanding of the code; establishing a commercial/government hybrid version of what ‘O Boat’ submarine sailors had once known as SWSC.
Although the pedigree of the submarine provider had ensured submariner crews fought wars and not defects, as had occurred on the Collins class, there was still the need for appropriate spares. Experience gained across a larger user base assisted in getting operating spares pretty much right. Reserve spares for wartime use had also been acquired … one of the benefits of having an affordable submarine program. Interestingly, signal traffic received in Exmouth revealed Boat 3 had a nasty spares issue that was resolved by DFAT secretly engaging a friend in the common submarine user base; the submarine designer now replacing their borrowed spares item in slower time.
Extended availability meant two and half crews were raised for every boat. The reduced crew stood by during the maintenance periods. It was a great system that allowed crews plenty of time away from the coal face and, coupled with the sense of pride and purpose in at sea periods, had all but eliminated the crewing problems experienced on the Collins Class submarines. The submarine service was once again recognised as an elite force with sailors and officers competing for selection.
Supporting a Deployed Submarine Force
DTG 290054H FEB 28: “OK team, standby for a final ranging manoeuvre. Starboard 15, steer 210”.
Of course, the game changes when you go to war. It was great to see the support organisation kick-in in different ways once it was clear that war was pending.
Pre-deployment was one big blur. Work-ups to the operational-level-of-capability involved sea training group and every ASW asset COMFLOT could get his hands on. Then came the DIO briefs on the enemy and the arrival of ACoustic INTelligence (ACINT) and ELectronic INTelligence (ELINT) specialist riders from AJAAC and RANTEWS, albeit one of them an Air Force member.
Commander Saunders was not happy with the last minute nature of the upgrade to the torpedo counter countermeasure code by the gurus at DSTO, but her confidence had been restored somewhat through the two days spent trialing the modified weapons on the well-equipped tracking range off Perth. Still, it had been agreed that only half of the torpedo load would be upgraded until the change was fully proven. The weapons workshop team on the submarine tender could upgrade the remaining embarked weapons at Exmouth, or elsewhere.
Of course, the tender had already departed to Exmouth, under escort and with an MH-60R Seahawk Helicopter embarked. This was part of an operational strategy to send a “seriousness” message to the enemy and perhaps create the impression that there were already Australian submarines in the area. Of course, at the higher levels it was known that there actually was! Boat Two had been conducting ISR in the intended OPAREA for the past three weeks. Unlike the Collins Class which suffered from poor availability and reliability, the tried and proven nature of the new submarines offered SUBOPS the opportunity to plan deployments which were better targeted at strategic requirements. Australia again had a 24/7 capability guaranteed in advance.
A degaussing and signature assessment evolution filled the last day.
Other key enabling capabilities included the upgraded Huon Minehunters (which had been retained as a specialist capability as the RAN’s offshore combatant vessel project had changed shape and form). Thankfully these vessels were moved to Western Australia as a result of the 2011 force posture review and had assisted Commander Saunders in ensuring passage along the Q route from HMAS STIRLING was uneventful. There had been intelligence indicating long-range mining was a distinct possibility, so no chances were taken.
Underway, tactical feeds from GCCS-M Mk II and other intelligence sources, regular now-casts and forecasts from Military Meteorologists and Oceanographers and the provision of bathymetric and bottom classification information from the Hydrographers proved invaluable.
No one ever really gave conscious consideration to the full gamut of important inputs to submarine capability. Communications was but one of them. Commander Saunders’ boat had a fully integrated communications system that covers the full electromagnetic spectrum; VLF though SHF. One starts to appreciate the value of the investment Defence had made in communication facilities such as NAVCOMSTA Harold E Holt and the new Defence Satellite Communications when receiving intelligence feeds, updates to rules of engagement, tasking instructions and cueing that greatly enhanced the effectiveness of the submarine. Other activities taking place ashore also assisted; water space management/submarine de-confliction, as one example.
DTG 290058H FEB 28: “Bearing rate matching solution on Master Contact 34 and 35”, was the report. “Roger bearing rates match. Open three and four tube bow shutters. The order was repeated by the fire control team. “Fire three tube, fire four tube!”
The boat shuddered twice. “Captain, ma’am, Sonar, weapons three and four heard to run”. “Roger that”.
From a Command perspective, it was nice to have full independence in firing weapons. When the land strike missile firing was conducted, all the planning had been done at the new Theatre Mission Planning Centre within Joint Operations Command HQ. TERCOM and other such targeting data had been downloaded via SHF SATCOM the evening before the land strike was executed. No need for such outside support when firing torpedoes.
And finally, how fantastic was the logistic organisation in ensuring they were well supported with victuals, spares and all manner of things required when we pulled into Exmouth. This included a battery cell, which had suffered a late failure. The JLG have even brought an experience engineer from the Adelaide company selected by the project office for in-country cell build, to assist in failed cell replacement should additional technical horsepower be needed.
Weapons had been another item resupplied at Exmouth. Thankfully they did not have to pull back to STIRLING for a reload, an act that would have taken the boat out of the OPAREA for too long. God bless DSG who had, over time, invested in forward base infrastructure. God bless CDG for selecting a weapon whose supplier was happy to have them built in Australia, assuring supply of ordinance in time of war. Of course the decision to ensure the Combat System could fire both the European weapon and the US Mk 48 Mod 8 added additional flexibility.
CMDR Saunders’ highly successful patrol had played a significant role in bringing about an enemy cease-fire.
The seeds of ‘Boat Four” however had been sown years earlier in 2013 when the decision was made to pursue a proven MOTS design as the basis for the RAN’s future submarine force. It was a decision borne out of the lessons of Collins, not wasted but acted upon. Many well thought out and pragmatic decisions ensued and the many inputs to capability were engineered to enable the events in January through March of 2028 to unfold so well for Australia.
Commander Saunders, now Commodore Saunders DSC, AM, CSC, still serves. She is currently Director General Submarines and is currently overseeing the entry of the batch three submarines, 4100 tonne evolutions of the batch two, into service.