From Sea 1441 to Sea 1000

The ink is hardly dry on the decision to adopt a US Navy combat system for the Type 471 Collins class SSK submarine; availability, serviceability and crewing remain problems to be solved; their half-life update is not too many years into the future; and the Government has said it will not abandon the Collins.

2nd Jan 2010


The ink is hardly dry on the decision to adopt a US Navy combat system for the Type 471 Collins class SSK submarine; availability, serviceability and crewing remain problems to be solved; their half-life update is not too many years into the future; and the Government has said it will not abandon the Collins.

Yet the same Government, the Department of Defence, State Governments, ASC and Australian industry appear to be determined that a future submarine, proposed under SEA 1000, will be acquired to replace the Collins Class and, if approved, will avoid the pitfalls, traps and problems experienced with Australia's first indigenously-built conventional diesel-electric submarine.

Yet the timescale is already marginal to develop the program, acquire a new submarine, with significant assembly in Australia, train crews and exhaustively qualify it before it is accepted into service.

Furthermore, while the Collins' experience was a great tutor, time has eroded the pool of resources and expertise from the Collins program, while operational performance criteria have become significantly more complex than when the Collins were designed and technology has moved on to match it.

So the Future Submarine Program (FSP) has to be described as a completely “new start” by Australia. Thus, the FSP will not be a case of “reinventing the Collins' wheel”, but will involve a lengthy apprenticeship for Government, Defence and Australian industry to acquire new skill sets in contracting, design, construction and support.

However, there is likely to be a complicating problem as the FSP, if approved, will not be the only game on the street as Defence is planning a number of future surface ship programs, such as the replacement of the Anzac ships, the patrol boats and perhaps a new ship class, all within the same timeframe as the FSP.

This situation, if it eventuates, may result in stretching industry's resources beyond its capacity to service all of them simultaneously. Furthermore, the three AWDs and the two LHDs that will be in service in the era of the FSP will place their own demands for support and crewing.

But Australia is not the only nation facing this problem. A similar environment exists in the UK, where the current Ministry of Defence plans to build twelve 6Kt frigates, possibly based on a scaled down Type 45 model; eight 2.5Kt Corvette/OPVs and 16 MCMVs. It is likely that these numbers will be scaled back if past experience is

any guide. And as is the case here, these new programs do not take into account existing programs such as the Type45, CVF, the still to be approved modernisation of the Type 23 frigates or the Trafalgar and Astute class SSNs. Opening discussions between Australia and the UK have been held at ministerial level to discuss a possible synergy between the UK and similar, mooted, Australian programs. British Aerospace

Systems, as the major shipbuilder in the UK and in Australia, will no doubt lead a charge to integrate the two sets of requirements. This brouhaha could impact progress on the FSP.

The Defence White Paper 2009

The Government and Defence expressed its views about the prime objectives for the ADF in the Defence White Paper (DWP) 2009 when the likelihood of increasing world instability, including Australia's regions of sovereign interest, and those of its allies in the Pacific, South East Asian and Asian continental areas are considered. The traditional and

prioritised “defence of Australia” is re-stated and as well the resolve, if needed, to project power in a wider context to secure defence of the realm.

Excerpts from the DWP follow that provide an over-arching view of the requirements for defence assets, including those of a future submarine:

• Our military strategy is crucially dependent on our ability to conduct joint operations in the approaches to Australia - especially those necessary to achieve and maintain air superiority and sea control in places of our choosing. Our military strategic aim in establishing and maintaining sea and air control is to enable the manoeuvre and employment of joint ADF elements in our primary operational environment, and particularly in the maritime and littoral approaches to the continent.

• Such a strategy does not necessarily entail a purely defensive or reactive approach. In operational terms, if we have to, we will need to be prepared to undertake proactive combat operations against an adversary's military bases and staging areas, and against its forces in transit, as far from Australia as possible.

• At the highest end of the scale, Australia might need to be prepared to engage in conventional combat in the region, in coalition with others, in order to counter coercion or aggression against our allies and partners.

• We have an overwhelming interest in working to avoid such conflicts, not just because of the human tragedy which they bring, but because such conflicts do not always remain limited in nature. For all of that, if our allies and partners are attacked, we may need to be prepared to go to their assistance. Any decisions on committing forces will take into account the extent to which our direct strategic interests are engaged as well as any alliance obligations that might be involved.

It is evident from the above that in the context of the DWP 2009, submarines have a very high priority.

SEA 1000 Future Submarine Project (FSP)

The FSP is currently for the supply of 12 submarines with measurable improvements in almost all aspects of their operational capability compared to that of the Collins. Improvements are sought in operational range, surface and submerged endurance, stealth, operational efficiency in an asymmetric environment, acquisition of sensitive data, self-protection, successful prosecution of covert or overt directives and closely coupled interoperability with a combined allied force. Although these objectives were fairly

certainly included in the Collins design brief, today they push the performance envelope beyond that achievable by the Collins. For example, submerged duration, automated operation to reduce crew size and workloads.

It is to be determined whether these objectives are achievable through the adoption of an existing compliant design, assuming one is available, or through the adoption of an existing non-compliant design that is capable of evolution, using spiral development, notwithstanding the time taken to achieve the final performance objective using this methodology.

A further, very significant, issue also to be weighed up is whether the adoption of the US-based combat system and the USN Mk48 heavyweight torpedo in the Collins could or should be continued in a future submarine, particularly if the future submarine is of European origin, although Europe has developed equivalent capabilities, at least, to these US systems. But perhaps the more important issue is that switching to non-US systems will likely disadvantage the continuation of the close knit and broad relationship that exists between the US and Australian navies, plus the value to the USN of an Australian

SSK submarine capability when the two navies are operating in an asymmetric environment. There are also other more emotional issues such as leakage of data that could raise their ugly head.

Planning Dates

Current planning dates for the in service date for the Future Submarine are soft, as one would expect at this stage. But the driver is coupled to inviolable dates for paying off the Collins class, which is estimated to begin around 2025, to avoid loss of capability. Using the 2025 date for first of class introduction into service of a future submarine, there are 16 years from 2010 to 2025, inclusive. In the simplest sense and assuming that approval for the project is given in 2010, one could divide the timescale into four consecutive phases. The first one of six years duration would get to the stage of mobilising the selected contractor; the second phase would be a three year period for the completion of all facilities necessary for production; the third phase would be a three-year construction program; and the fourth phase a four-year period to provide for contractor trials and for the Navy to conduct acceptance, test and trials of the first of class submarine. No

consideration in this timescale is given to the desirability of full qualification of the first of class before committing to the balance of the construction program.

Considering the available SSK designs available, the relationship with the US Navy and the time available to achieve the defined objective, the FSP has to be accorded a “tough call” rating that is fraught with traps for the innocent and unwary.

Where we are

Against the above background this paper reviews where the FSP is believed to

be and what submarine designs might be available to match the FSP timescale.

Events to the end of 2009

• Further clarification of the future submarine requirements.

On 5 May Chapter 9 of the DWP was amended to provide valuable information about the

characteristics and performance that are sought for the FSP as well as other issues. These features are briefly summarised here, with the writer's comments in brackets:

• 12 submarines, to be assembled (writer's emphasis) in Adelaide. The largest single Defence project, spanning three decades

• Expanded capabilities to those possessed by the Collins, including launch (and recovery?) of UUVs

• Capabilities to include A/S, A/Sub warfare, strategic strike, mine detection and mine-laying, intelligence acquisition, infiltration and recovery of special forces units, acquisition of battlespace information. (The Collins Class will already have some of the above, but of lower capabilities than those envisaged for the FSP.)

• Increased operational range and performance (compared to Collins?)

• Submarines will not use nuclear propulsion (limits design, performance and design

availability options, particularly the latter)

• Acquisition issues to be fully addressed and at an early stage. (Suggests an early selection of the submarine and the companies to be involved)

• Continued close collaboration with the US in undersea warfare capability (May be contrary to European practice for which European submarines are designed and obfuscate proprietary data release conditions)

• The Collins will not be abandoned early but will continue to be upgraded during the next decade to maintain capability that meets the operational requirements until the future submarine enters service.

• The option to increase quantities of the new submarines to be re-visited from time to time.

APDR at a glance