At February’s Senate Estimate hearings, Defence acknowledged for the first time that a submarine capability gap is a real possibility. Subsequent analysis by ASPI reveals that, if the life of Collins cannot be extended or a MOTS submarine is not procured, it is not a question of whether there will be a gap, simply how large it will be.

4th May 2012

 SEA 1000



At February’s Senate Estimate hearings, Defence acknowledged for the first time that a submarine capability gap is a real possibility. Subsequent analysis by ASPI reveals that, if the life of Collins cannot be extended or a MOTS submarine is not procured, it is not a question of whether there will be a gap, simply how large it will be.
Answers to the previous Estimate hearing’s questions-on-notice reveal that Defence has only one capability gap mitigation plan – extending the life of Collins. But such an option is fraught with danger.

This month’s SEA 1000 article spells out the difficulties and downsides in attempting to extend the life of Collins beyond 2025 and introduces the idea that euthanasia, coupled with a rapid submarine acquisition program, might just be the best option.

Euthanasia: "A gentle and easy death ... The means of bringing about a gentle and easy death ...”. In more recent use ... “The action of inducing a gentle and easy death. Used esp. with reference to a proposal that the law should sanction the putting painlessly to death of those suffering from incurable and extremely painful diseases." Oxford English Dictionary.

An Impending Gap
Anyone who follows the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Estimates hearings in the Senate would be familiar with the submarine capability gap drum the Shadow Minister for Defence, Senator Johnston, has been beating regularly. In February he finally teased an admission from the head of the Future Submarine Program, RADM Rowan Moffitt, that there is a risk of a [submarine] capability gap”. It was the first time a formal admission of this kind had been made public by an official.

Perhaps spurred on by RADM Moffitt’s comment, Australia’s premier Defence think tank, ASPI, have published a detailed paper, “Mind the Gap – Getting Serious about Submarines”. Their paper postulates that procuring a bespoke submarine using DMO’s schedule estimate will result in a situation which is “nothing short of catastrophic”.

Even if the RAN could replicate the relatively quick design and build cycle of Collins program, in the span 2023 to 2032 - a full twenty submarine years would be lost.
The RAN is in the situation where its only hope of avoiding a capability gap is by procuring a MOTS submarine or extending the life of Collins. Because Defence has to date refused to yield to the rather ambitious Defence White Paper submarine requirement, and therefore is not too interested in a MOTS submarine, a Submarine Life Evaluation Program (SLEP) has been initiated. The SLEP aims to evaluate the possibility of extending the life of Collins beyond that originally envisaged and to map out how this would best be carried out. Commodore Mark Sander, the RANs most senior submariner, has been put in charge of SLEP. He is well regarded and pragmatic. Unfortunately neither of these traits will protect him from some relatively significant challenges, revealed below.

Current State of Play
Before addressing a Collins life extension, it is relevant to summarise the Collins program thus far along with the current state of play such that we understand the background and starting point for SLEP.

It is fair to say that the Collins Program has not met expectations. The first Collins Class submarine was launched in 1993. It took more than a decade and a truckload of money before the submarines were considered suitable to undertake all operational tasks. In the late 90’s a Submarine Capability Team was put in place, and a billion dollars allocated to getting the submarine capability back on track. The head of the team essentially wrote his own terms of reference and got everything he wanted. Despite this, almost two decades after the launch of the first boat, we find the Collins class submarine still on the DMO’s Projects of Concern List and with a categorisation that indicates “there remains significant risk to be remediated or the project cannot deliver the required capability to the ADF”. ANAO’s November 2010 Report Number 17 sheds some light on a number of outstanding issues (faulty submerged signal ejectors, general signature issues, diesels engine unreliability, propeller unreliability and signature issues … the list goes on). More recently the Coles Review has highlighted an almost dysfunctional submarine support organisation.

There is no doubt that important operations have been conducted by the submarine force with the Collins platform, but there is also no question that submarine availability has been poor. It is reasonable to surmise that the poor availability must have resulted in a dilution of the range and depth of experience within the submarine force and, indeed, for our ASW practitioners. It has also affected the ADF at the strategic level with Navy lacking the ability to confidently plan submarine deployments ahead of time. Time will tell if, for example, HMAS Farncomb will make it to Hawaii and then participate in RIMPAC 2012.
It is from this starting point that we must consider a life extension of Collins.

Sticking Points
Succinctly; extending the life of Collins may not be cost effective or represent value for money.
One cost driver would be the repair of a number of latent submarine design defects. The fact that over the 20 years since the Collins Class appeared these issues have not been dealt with suggests there hasn’t been the will to allocate appropriate resources/money to rectify them, or perhaps Australia doesn’t have enough confidence in its ability to implement a home grown solution and/or simply doesn’t understand the impact of the changes. The reality is repairing some of the design issues will take a considerable amount of experience and money.

Another cost driver is spares availability. The Collins Class is, in so many aspects, unique and this is particularly the case in a number of the ‘platform’ systems (and not necessarily highly technical systems). ASC and the Navy are now finding themselves in the situation where there are simply no spare parts available anywhere in the world. Adding to this problem is the fact that there are cases where the original supplier no longer conducts business and/or there is no existing form, fit and function replacement. The only options to handle such instances seem to be purchase the drawings or a license to use them and pay a company to tool up and fabricate the item, remove the system/equipment from the boat and accept the loss of function/capability, modify the platform/system to replace the equipment with a suitable alternative or cannibalize equipment from one of the other boats. The first of these options is expensive. In relation to the second and third option, the Navy might not be in a position to accept equipment removal and subsequent loss of function/capability and we may not have the necessary design understanding (in most cases) to replace the equipment with a suitable alternative. The cheapest and quickest is cannibalization, and appears to be the avenue adopted in the Collins Class case. Assuming, this approach is finite and must eventually be backed up by one of the first three approaches, trouble is looming.

Capability Edge
Unfortunately, even in today’s terms, Collins looks to have fallen behind in capability when compared to some new entrant regional submarines. The reality is that, after spending money extending the life of Collins, the RAN will be left with submarines that have a significant capability disadvantages compared with regional submarine and ASW capability. Noting the White Paper outlined a need for a significantly more capable submarine than Collins, the submarine will almost certainly be unable to complete future tasking.

This statement is not intending to be unkind to Collins. It simply reflects the reality that Collins is competing in a field made up of many more recent and newer classes of submarines. The Collins class is a design of the 80’s using 70’s and 80’s technology; as time marches on, so too does technology. Technology affords a submarine force with advantage. Examples of historical technology changes which had great effect on submarine warfare include the introduction of the diesel engine, improved batteries, the snorkel, the reactor, hydrodynamic hull forms and shapes, acoustic quietening, narrowband sonar processing and Air Independent Propulsion (AIP). There are other less transformational technology examples, e.g. non-penetrating periscopes, that contribute in a smaller, but still, valuable way. The reality of the situation is that between the period when Collins was designed and today, there have been a number of advances in technology that give modern submarines an edge over Collins. Unfortunately the focus on getting Collins operational, addressing latent defects and dealing with a general lack of availability may have prevented enhancements to the platform and some of the mission system components (e.g. plans to install Stirling Engines mid-life disappeared as finite funding was diverted to the fix-it program and the sonar upgrade has continually been delayed).

It is not appropriate to conduct a direct analysis between Collins and modern regional submarines. None the less, it is possible to describe the difference between technologies employed in conventional submarines in and around the time that Collins was being designed and those that are appearing on modern submarines now. Note that, with the exception of AIP, no single technology is truly transformational with respect to capability advantage, but the net effect of many new technologies can make a large difference. Many of these new technologies have been introduced and are at sea.
Air independent Propulsion: AIP, which affords significant tactical advantage to a submarine over standard diesel electric propulsion, was dealt with in the December/January edition of APDR.

Diesel Generators:
Submarine designers are taking advantage of advances in diesel generator technology to fit diesels with greater power/weight and power/volume ratios to modern submarines. Coupled with highly efficient generators, they allow much faster charging rates to be achieved when compared with submarines of a Collins vintage, thereby decreasing the time a submarine has to snort. Decreased snorting times in turn reduces the chance of acoustic, radar or visual counter-detection by belligerent ASW forces.

Batteries: There have been improvements in lead acid battery technology over the past 20 years that are now utilised in newer submarines. Whilst not yet deployed at sea on submarines, lithium ion batteries are close – both DCNS and HDW have invested heavily in this technology. Lithium ion batteries have a higher energy density. Given an equivalent size and weight, the lithium ion battery will allow a submarine operating at standard search speeds to spend 50% longer dived without the need to snort over a submarine fitted with a lead acid cell, and up to 4 times at high speed. They can charge at full charging rates over the full range of the battery, something that cannot be done by lead acid cells, meaning they never achieve a 100% charge within an operating area.

Main Motors: Most 1980’s submarines used standard main motors in comparison to the permanent magnet propulsion motors fitted to modern submarines such as the Scorpene and the Type 214. Permanent magnet propulsion motors are a very efficient propulsion system which improves indiscretion ratios and endurance. Additionally, for their size, they have higher torque permitting the use of larger, slower turning propellers, which in turn makes them quieter.

Propellers: All modern submarines now have large highly skewed propellers attached to their permanent magnet motors. Composite propellers, which are lighter and are more resistant to “singing” than bronze and sonoston, are now at sea on Type 212 submarines.

Hull Strength and Diving Depth: 1980 submarine technology saw the use of HY-80 (High Yield – 80,000 PSI) steel, which allowed submarines to venture to depths between 200 and 300 metres. Modern submarines are being constructed with HY-100, or a combination of HY-80 and HY-100, which see them achieve deep diving depths of greater than 300 metres - Scorpenes at 350M+ and Type 214s at 400M+. Greater diving depths allow greater tactical use of the water column, water depth permitting, and result in potentially greater areas for hostile torpedoes to search. There is also a general strength associated with deep diving depths that provides a greater resilience against explosive shock at any depth.

Signatures: It is reasonable to presume that the Scorpene’s and Type 214 enjoy the benefit of over 20 years of advancements in quietening technology over submarines of a Collins vintage. Quieting technologies play a big part in achieving tactical stealth vital in submarine vs. submarine encounter or for operating submarines in areas where bottom mounted sensors are employed.

Integrated Combat Systems: In the 1980’s, fully integrated combat systems were but a mere technical possibility, however they are now standard on Scorpene (SUBTICS) and Type 214s (ISUS). These systems have extensive data association and fusion capabilities across the combat system’s sub-systems which makes them capable of supporting operations in high-contact density environments, and common HMI & work processes which afford them advantage over federated systems.
Sonars: 1980 sonars employ analogue arrays, 16 bit analogue to digital convertors and signal processing algorithms matched to the processing power available at the time. Modern sonar systems such as ARCI, CSU-90 and S-Cube have significant technical and operational advantages over older sonar designs. These include improved sensor and sensor mounting technology, higher resolution digitised arrays, algorithmic improvements and integration of data from multiple arrays and other sensors. These improvements provide advantage in almost all submarine related operations.

ESM: Compared to 1980 ESM systems, modern ESM systems have more antennas packaged into stealthier masts (and in many cases into optronics masts - negating the need to raise multiple masts). They are more sensitive and have wider bandwidth receivers coupled with faster scan rates, with and greater ability to detect modern submarine search radar side lobes (i.e. they can detect the radar before it points at the submarine) and deal with a greater number of simultaneous emitters in an operational area.

On modern submarines at least one of the (direct optical path) periscopes have been replaced with an optronics mast, and in some cases both (e.g. Astute, Barracuda and Virginia Class). Optronics masts, which use HDTV cameras along with mid/long wave infrared and LLTV sensors), electronically bring optical signals into the submarines. They have many advantages over periscopes.

Communications: Most modern submarines have, as standard, fully integrated internal and external communications systems, which include SHF SATCOM. Most submarines of the Collins era were supplied with UHF only.

Torpedoes: There have been a number of significant developments with respect to modern torpedoes. These were addressed in the September 2011 edition of APDR.
Special Forces Support Systems: Modern submarines are designed with Special Forces Operations in mind. They have special facilities designed in to support these sorts of operations, including special accommodation facilities, diver locks and both wet and dry stowage compartments. In older submarines, facilities to support Special Forces were an adjunct.

Countermeasures: There have been major advances in the area of submarine countermeasures. Twenty years ago, most submarines fired their countermeasures from submerged signal ejectors, of which most submarines have only two. Modern submarines have under casing launchers which allow for multiple effectors, both jammers and decoys, to be fired automatically and instantly.

Value for Money
Value for money is an important prerequisite for officials considering spending public money. Section 44 of the Financial Management and Accountability Act (1997) requires public servants “to manage the affairs of the agency in a way that promotes proper use of Commonwealth resources”. That is, the manner in which they expend the Commonwealth’s resources - read money - must be “efficient, effective and economical”.
Collins has proved to be a very expensive means of Australia having a submarine capability, with the force costing the taxpayer at total of $801M in the FY 10/11. It should be noted that this was the cost in a year which was rumoured to have the submarine’s worse availability figures; in June 2011 it was reported that not one single submarine was available to put to sea.

It is difficult to understand how Defence assessed the money being spent on Collins to be value for money. In fact, when Defence was asked in at Estimates how they determined they were getting ‘value for money’ they were unable to provide a clear answer.

The French recently signed an AUD$635M (EUR$500M) sustainment contract with DCNS for their six SSNs for five years. This contract includes one nine month intermediate refit and three 18 month “complete overhauls”. The French always have three SSNs available and get about 200 days of availability from each of them. The sustainment costs for a French SSN are AUD$22M per boat per annum. Australia will pay $81M per boat on sustainment this year; the submarines will get significantly less availability, with 3 years full cycle docking (FCD) periods not assisting in this regard.
Compared to ASC’s 900,000 work-hour three year FCD, ASPI reports that “a typical European conventional submarine undergoes a 10–12 month full‑cycle docking entailing less than 200,000 work‑hours every eight years”.

When the fixes recommended by Coles and a submarine life extension program are added, costs are going to rise even further.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that Coles fixes can be implemented or that a life extension program will be successful; surely if the Collins Class could be “fixed” and made reliable they would have been by now noting we have owned these submarines for over twenty years and already dedicated a disproportionate of the Defence budget to their upkeep.

The situation is untenable.
Australia’s submarines are costly. They are expensive to maintain, their unreliability has eaten away at ADF submarine warfare and ASW acumen and, from a personnel perspective, the continued struggle to keep the boat at sea has been moral sapping.
By 2016 it is highly likely that Australian taxpayers will be spending more than a billion dollars per annum to have a submarine force. For this price there it is likely that the submarines will still not meet availability expectation and will, unquestionably, be behind with respect to capability.

Decisive action needs to be taken. In considering our position we must move away from specific platforms and focus on the capability need. More specifically the ADF has a genuine requirement for a submarine capability; they do not have a genuine requirement for the Collins Class specifically. The impending capability gap must be staved off, whilst ensuring “efficient, effective and economical” expenditure of Commonwealth resources. The solution many are deducing appears to be an interim MOTS submarine program in conjunction with ‘euthanizing’ the Collins Class submarines.
Continuing down the current path places national security at risk and is nothing short of being cavalier with the taxpayer’s hard earned money.

APDR at a glance