TKMS – down but not necessarily completely out

he history of SEA 1000 has already been so long and complex that it would be an error to assume that the way ahead will be simple

29th Apr 2016

SEA 1000


TKMS – down but not necessarily completely out


Kym Bergmann / Kiel & Berlin



The history of SEA 1000 has already been so long and complex that it would be an error to assume that the way ahead will be simple and completely predictable – particularly because of the timeframes involved and the politicization of the process.  Indeed, in the wave of pro-Adelaide euphoria surrounding the announcement by the Prime Minister on April 26 of the selection of DCNS (see previous story page 14) that the wording of the official release seems to have been overlooked:


“DCNS of France has been selected as our preferred international partner for the design of the 12 Future Submarines, subject to further discussions on commercial matters.”


This leaves open the question: what happens if the further discussions with DCNS on commercial matters are unsuccessful?  Given that these will not even begin until after the Federal Election, the situation could be quite different from the overheated atmosphere we are currently in.  We might have a new Government, or even if this one is returned a new Defence Minister, who is facing criticism for her media aversion and failure to set out a coherent national security framework.


If the SEA 1000 decision had been taken as a consequence of a formal Request For Tender (RFT) process, what would have occurred was that the runner up – in this case presumably TKMS – would have been notified that their offer had been set aside while the Government negotiated a contract with the preferred Prime.  While this is usually a piece of window dressing, there have been rare occasions when negotiations with the first choice have fallen through and the company in second place has gone on to secure the contract (the writer was involved in just such a case in 1997 for a RAAF flight simulator).  However, SEA 1000 has not been handled in this manner and the precise contractual position of TKMS – and for that matter the Government of Japan – is unclear.


Given that the Department accelerated the evaluation process at the request of the Government so it could make the announcement in favor of DCNS (and Adelaide) before the pre-election caretaker period, this may mean that various procedural matters have taken a back seat.  This could explain the gracious concession statement by TKMSA Chairman Dr John White, which read in part:


“The competitive evaluation was conducted with high integrity and professionalism and we were privileged to be part of it.  We are naturally disappointed, but we stand ready to provide support for Australia’s Future Submarines project with our unrivalled experience, leading technology and track record in building submarines in the customer’s own country.  ThyssenKrupp remains committed to the essence of its ‘Project Endeavour’ for SEA 1000 - to transition Australia’s naval shipbuilding industry to world class naval capability and competitiveness, capable of export. ”


TKMS has been shortlisted for SEA 1180 (see separate story page 44) and so will be active in Australia for some time yet.  In this context it is still relevant to remind readers of what TKMS – and the German Government – are offering for SEA 1000. 


In mid-April TKMS organized a media tour that started at the company’s headquarters in the historic shipbuilding town of Kiel on the Baltic Coast.  A recurrent theme of the entire visit to Germany was the record of TKMS as the western world’s most successful designer, builder and exporter of diesel electric submarines having not only produced them for their parent navy but also for 17 other countries.  More than 50 TKMS submarines have been built in shipyards outside Germany – such as in India, South Korea and Turkey – demonstrating that the company is able to successfully manage projects where high levels of local content are required and technology transfer is essential.


The company therefore considered itself to be a relatively low risk option because of the level of experience it has not only in submarine design but in shipyard construction – tailored to the needs of each customer – and a good record of on time, on cost delivery of diesel electric submarines.  Into the mix TKMS added a design they say was optimized to meet the unique requirements of the Commonwealth.  Because of the rules of the CEP the company was unable to discuss the specifics of their offer, but was able to indicate that – like the French and Japanese – the preferred solution was more than 4,000 tonnes displacement.


TKMS Australia CEO Philip Stamford – a former Collins Class submariner – said that the size of the design was dictated by the requirements of the customer and was not an end in itself.  He pointed out that – for example – if one simply took an existing Collins and added in an Air Independent Propulsion section of 500 tonnes, that would take the total displacement to more than 4,000 tonnes.  He also pointed out that the combat power of a submarine – the combination of weapons, sensors and software – was not size dependent.  He illustrated this with reference to the German Type 212s of around 1,500 tonnes and the somewhat larger Dolphin Class being built for Israel, which has a submerged displacement of 2,300 tonnes.


The references to the Type 212s and Dolphins are also important in explaining that, like the SEA 1000 offer, these two classes were ab initio designs that were developed precisely to customer requirements.  This was to make the point that TKMS is able and willing to give the RAN the submarine that it wants.  This came about because of a discussion regarding the Type 216 submarine, which has been designed as a large ocean going submarine, but has not yet found a launch customer.


The Type 216 is a concept design for a submarine of 4,000 tonnes displacement to achieve great range and endurance.  Its origins are twofold: firstly a recognition that submarines are required to take on an increasing number of missions, such as land attack, so they are getting bigger – and secondly that there are several countries looking for ocean going submarines, including Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and India.


However, the Type 216 has no connection with what TKMS is offering to Australia – the story becomes complex.  The RAN has been very clear that it does not want a submarine that will be found in the inventories of other nations – presumably because its performance characteristics will become widely known – so the Australian design by definition has to be unique.  So even though the Type 216 is similar in size to what Australian range and endurance requirements dictate and its major subsystems are the same – such as MTU series 4000 marinised diesels and a Siemens Permasyn main electric motor – it has not been offered.  But because of the CEP confidentiality requirements, TKMS were banned from explaining in what ways the submarine for Australia would be different.  As an aside, if the RAN were ever to change their minds in this regard, a Type 216 could presumably be built in Australia relatively quickly because much of the design work for it has been done – but that would be too easy a solution.


As well as extensive briefings, we also toured the shipyard to see a ‘Dolphin’ under construction for Israel and a German Navy Type 212 undergoing maintenance, as well as a great deal of related submarine activity.  The work TKMS is doing with composites is particularly interesting and the company is installing carbon fibre propeller blades on German Type 212s, which hold great promise in further reducing signatures.  Composite add on panels are also being used for hydrodynamic streamlining – and the trend is for their use to increase, paralleling what is happening in military and commercial aviation.  Finally, we were given a short course in Air Independent Propulsion by being shown that part of the shipyard that tests all fuel cell components prior to installation.


Interestingly, all Type 212 Intellectual Property is owned by TKMS, rather than the German Government.  The company believes this puts it in a strong position to transfer IP, arguing “you cannot transfer what you do not own.”  The company, however, must work within German Government export control laws.


Another very important part of SEA 1000 is parent Government support and all three bidders looked to be quite strong in this regard.  In Berlin at the Reichstag, we met  with Mr Uwe Beckmeyer, who has the title of Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy – and Federal Government Co-ordinator for the Maritime Industry.  He described German Government support for TKMS in SEA 1000 as “unprecedented” – and had on hand officials from the Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs to provide more detail about discussions that had taken place.  This included an eight page framework agreement that had been developed interactively with the SEA 1000 project office and included guarantees for Australian access to all submarine related research and development, as well as assistance in commercial matters such as independently verifying pricing.


Finally mention must be made of the visit in Berlin to the Siemens factory that manufactures the Permasyn permanent magnet motors that are an integral part of TKMS submarines.  Siemens is a world-class industrial giant at the leading edge of technology for industrial and electrical systems.  APDR has previously covered the strengths of the Permasyn motor in some detail (October 2015) and suffice to say, it is much quieter and more compact that older generation solutions – both extremely important features for diesel electric submarines.  Siemens also produces electrical control systems and AIP systems for submarines, and was well advanced in plans to achieve Australian industry content in excess of 50% for SEA 1000 – but unfortunately those efforts have come to nothing.


With the passage of time, it might be possible to provide some concrete reasons why TKMS were unsuccessful in SEA 1000.  For the moment we can only observe that France might have been able to offer access to nuclear technologies that a long way down the track might be of great interest for Australia.


(Disclaimer: Kym Bergmann travelled to Germany as a guest of TKMS)



APDR at a glance