October 30, 2014

France's (part concept) SMX Ocean SSK at Euronaval 2014

The SMX Ocean exhibit at EURONAVAL 2014 (27-31 October 2014)

DCNS unveiled the SMX Ocean conventionally powered attack submarine. The new vessel draws on the design of the Barrracuda SSN, with a number of innovations.

DCNS SMX Ocean showcased at EURONAVAL 2014

DCNS SMX Ocean showcaised at EURONAVAL 2014

DCNS SMX Ocean showcased at EURONAVAL 2014  
Read more"

See my post on the DCNS SMX Ocean, October 28, 2014 at http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2014/10/dcns-announces-its-smx-ocean-large.html


October 29, 2014

Russia exhibiting the concept Amur-1650 conventional submarine (SSK) at Euronaval 2014

Russia is relatively unpopular in Europe at present (Crimea-Ukraine crisis) however France did not cancel Russia's invitation to Euronaval 2014 currently being held on the outskirts of Paris.

At Euronaval 2014 Russia's defence export state company Rosoboronexport, October 28, 2014, presented the Project 677E Amur-1650 diesel-electric submarine (SSK) http://worlddefencenews.blogspot.com.au/2014/10/rosoboronexport-presents-its-new-naval.html 

Russia's test submarine for the Amur (so far concept only) submarine is the (officially one existing) Lada class submarine.

Project 677E Amur-1650 diesel-electric submarine exposed at EURONAVAL 2014 
Read more"

BACKGROUND ON RUSSIA'S AMUR-1650 SSK [often called "Lada" - when deployed in the Russian Navy]

Drawn from Russia's Rubin Design Bureau website on October 28, 2014 http://www.ckb-rubin.ru/en/projects/naval_engineering/conventional_submarines/amur_1650/

"Based upon a multi-year experience of operating diesel-electric submarines of Projects 613 (Whiskey), 641 (Foxtrot), 641B (Tango) of Kilo class by Russian Navy and by Navies of other countries, Rubin has developed the fourth generation conventional submarines of the Amur class (Amur 1650 and Amur 950).

Compared to Kilo class submarines, the Amur 1650 submarine features a reduced displacement. The boat is distinguished by the capability of firing up to 6 missiles in a salvo against targets at sea and on shore, state-of-the-art electronic warfare systems and a sonar with a unique passive antenna to detect silent targets at a large range.

Acoustic signature of the Amur 1650 submarine is several times lower compared to Kilo class submarines which are currently considered to be the most silent in the world. The submarine is equipped with electronic warfare systems of new generation based on the recent hi-tech solutions.

The provision is made for the boat to be fitted with an air-independent propulsion plant with electrochemical generators to considerably increase submerged endurance and cruising range. The plant with stock of reagents is located in a special compartment module, which can be incorporated into the submarine during construction or repair / refit. 

The submarine can be operated in any oceanic area, except for the regions with extensive ice fields, at any weather, and in shallow and deep waters. For the submarine, the equipment and weapons of Russian production, as well as by the Customer country, or by other countries can be used.


October 28, 2014

France's DCNS announces the SMX OCEAN large conventional submarine

The SMX OCEAN concept is fitted with an impressive load of up to 34 weapons for action in the four domains: anti-air, anti-surface, anti-submarine & action against land targets.
DCNS concept submarine, the SMX OCEAN, is fitted with an impressive load of up to 34 weapons for action in the four domains: anti-air, anti-surface, anti-submarine & action against land targets.

PETE'S COMMENTS (the revision)

DCNS's campaign launch for the SMX coincides with Australia's long heralded desire to buy 6 to 12 large SSKs under project SEA 1000. Australia has not put forward a tender process making it difficult for the main European contenders (France and German) to know what Australia precisely wants. Australia's semi-secret negotiations with Japan (which builds the Soryu submarine) is putting all outside the loop on edge. 

DCNS has been unable to publically put forward any unit or program price for Australia. Perhaps DCNS will propose a program price to any Australian delegation at the Euronaval 2014 which ends on October 31, 2014?

Although DCNS is marketing the SMX Ocean as being an conventional (SSK) version of the Barracuda SSN there are sufficient differences for these to be considered distinctly different submarines.

As well as the propulsion and propeller differences the Barracuda would have major differences in buoyancy dynamics. This is in terms of the many diesel fuel tanks needed for an SMX but not included in the nuclear propelled Barracuda. These diesel fuel tanks would need to be emptied during a  voyage and then presumably progressively filled with seawater to maintain balance and buoyancy. The lack of a heavy reactor (with lead shielding) in the SMX would also make for major differences in center of gravity-balance compared to the Barracuda.

The Barracuda would be mostly designed for Atlantic temperature and salinity conditions rather than any Australian SMX's Indian-Pacific Ocean only conditions - with consequent differences in air-conditioning and perhaps in absorbent tile-cladding and hull-steel types. 

It is very unlikely Australia would adopt a French submarine combat system (sensors, data management and weapons). Australia is likely to stick with the present-evolved US combat system already used on the Collins.  

vertical multi-purpose lock (VMPL) or VLS is not worth the weight penalties for the combat power of 6 SLCMs. The weight tradeoff is also negative if there is a horizontal diver vehicle pod (behind the sail) fitted or retrofitted.

The extended development-building period for the not yet completed Barracuda may indicate uncertainty, risk and trouble for the SMX (and of course the not even started German TKMS-HDW 216). A big disadvantage of the SMX and 216 may also occur for any major repairs needed in France or Germany compared to repairs in much nearer Japan (for the Soryu).

The SMX's almost all new diesel-electric propulsion system sounds problematic. There are insufficent details concerning the "second generation" AIP. The SMX's proposed "six" diesel engines sound ad hoc and likely to increase the chances of malfunctions. It would be much better if France itself uses the proposed Lithium-ion batteries on SSKs for years - making them more mature and less risky for Australian to adopt.

The greater weight of 4,700 tons surfaced (?) for the SMX (compared to the 3,000 ton surfaced Soryu and 4,000 ton surfaced (?) 216) will almost definitly make the SMX much more expensive. The SMX would likely become another Australia only orphan design like the 216 but unlike the existing Soryu. Australia cannot rely on other countries (like Canada or India) to buy the SMX or 216 so as to avoid the Australian orphan result.

It appears overall that DCNS has developed the SMX (4 week old?) sales campaign in a hurry to head-off any final Australian decision in favour of Japan's Soryu or, less likely, the 216. The Pacific regional alliance benefits of Australia selecting a Japanese submarine are greater than any alliance benefits concerning France or Germany which are basically North Atlantic powers. 


Navy Recognition reported September 30, 2014, that France's DCNS will introduce a new submarine concept at Euronaval 2014 to be held from October 27th to 31st at Paris Le Bourget in France. The SMX OCEAN is based on a Barracuda hull, the next generation SSN of the French Navy, fitted with a conventional propulsion system (SSK) with AIP technology. see http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2029

The SMX OCEAN announcement is clearly timed for and aimed at Australia's so far informal Future Submarine (FSM) SEA 1000 Project. At 4,700 tons 
[surfaced based on the Barracuda's specificationsSMX OCEAN is much heavier and more capable than the favourite (the in-production Japanese Soryu submarine) and perhaps more so than the German TKMS-HDW 216 concept submarine. 

The focus of DCNS engineers in developing this concept is put on endurance and high sustained speed. The 4,700 tons SSK is designed for an endurance of 14,000 nautical miles (3 months autonomy) and a continuous transit speed of 14 knots for 1 week thanks to its Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system fitted with two fuel cells. The original nuclear propulsion system of the Barracuda design would be replaced with six diesel engines and three sets of Lithium-ion batteries.

Two thruster pods would be deployable at the bottom of the hull to allow the submarine to maneuver while the main screw is not in action (full stop). The X rudder design is the same as on the Barracuda and allows increased maneuverability.

The SMX OCEAN concept is fitted with an impressive load of up to 34 weapons for action in the four domains: anti-air, anti-surface, anti-submarine & action against land targets.The SMX OCEAN SSK is fitted with one large modular VLS tube [also known as a vertical multi-purpose lock (VMPL)] that may launch up to six cruise missiles. The submarine may also deploy F21 heavy torpedoes, SM39 Block 2 anti-ship missiles and a submarine launched version of the Mica missile (A3SM Underwater Vehicle Version) for self protection against air threats.

Finally a DCNS representative told Navy Recognition that the SMX OCEAN may deploy and recover a new UUV DCNS is working on, as well as deploy a UAV acting as remote sensor for intelligence gathering.


Navy Recognition later reports, October 10, 2014,  http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2052 : 

Xavier Mesnet, Marketing Director (Export of Submarines) at DCNS, gives Navy Recognition an exclusive preview of the SMX OCEAN that will be unveiled at Euronaval 2014. The interview was conducted at the confidential site of Bagneux where DCNS develops its combat management systems and conduct some research and development on future projects.

Xavier Mesnet presents the SMX OCEAN heavy SSK to be unveiled at Euronaval 2014.

The focus of DCNS engineers in developing this submarine was put on endurance and high sustained speed. The 4,700 tons SSK was designed for an endurance of 14,000 nautical miles (3 months autonomy) and a continuous transit speed of 14 knots for 1 week.

To achieve such performance, the propulsion system is based on DCNS' revolutionary second generation fuel cell. It consists in the combination of a diesel reformer (therefore only diesel is used for both the diesel engine and the AIP) with air fuel cell technology.

More details on this second generation fuel cell (which has already been tested by DCNS) as well as on the SMX OCEAN will be disclosed during Euronaval 2014.

The SMX OCEAN SSK is DCNS answer to the recent emergence of several heavy SSK projects such as the Type 216 by TKMS (~4,000 tons ), the KSS III project from South Korea (~3,000 tons) or the Soryu class of Japan (~4,000 tons).

DCNS already has the know how to design heavy submarines (few shipyards in the world are capable of designing and producing SSBNs and SSNs) and DCNS insists SMX OCEAN is more than a concept: Construction could start fairly rapidly since it is based on the already under production Barracuda SSN.

October 26, 2014

Seaweb Undersea (and broader naval) Surveillance Network

(Diagram courtesy of the US Navy Undersea Warfare magazine http://www.navy.mil/navydata/cno/n87/usw/issue_30/art.html )

Seaweb comes in many sensor technologies and host platforms - US and other Western. Seaweb harnesses vast resources of data memory and processing power provided by the US Navy and  Western naval partners. Diagram sourced from http://www.docstoc.com/docs/146099687/Seaweb.

Seaweb includes a vast range of communications and surveillance systems and platforms - from satellites to sensors buried in the sea-bed and every platform in between, including Western submarines. 

Perhaps Seaweb's highest priorities are to track submarines of countries hostile to (or competing with) the West - including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Surface ships and on-shore naval transmitters would also be of interest.

Operators of Seaweb increasingly use unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) and autonomous undersea vehicles (AUVs) including Wave Glider, seen above. 

The Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2014, reported on the multi-platform Western alliance Seaweb underwater surveillance network.  

Underwater Drones Join Microphones to Listen for Chinese Nuclear Submarines

 SINGAPORE—Last November [2013], an unusual experiment took place in the congested waters of Singapore just a few weeks before a Chinese nuclear attack submarine passed through the adjacent Malacca Strait

U.S. and Singaporean researchers used an underwater drone named Starfish [autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV)] to explore ways to monitor subsea activity in an experiment sponsored by the U.S. military and Singapore’s defense ministry, say people involved.

The goal of the operation, named Project Mission, was to link a Singaporean underwater surveillance system to an American one that is designed to track potentially hostile submarines. The trial was also part of a broader U.S. effort to use its own underwater drones, combined with data from friendly countries, to enhance a sub-snooping system that dates back to the early years of the Cold War.
From the 1950s, the U.S. listened for Soviet subs entering the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by stringing underwater microphones across the seabed around its coast and in strategic chokepoints, such as between the U.K. and Iceland.

These cable-linked “hydrophones” were part of a secret global network called Sound Surveillance System, or Sosus. The U.S. declassified Sosus in 1991, making it available for civilian purposes such as tracking illegal fishing or whales.
But in recent years, the U.S. and its allies have reactivated or upgraded elements of the system in Asia, partly in response to renewed Russian undersea activity, but also to monitor China’s expanding submarine capabilities. “It never went away per se, and so we—if you will—revitalized all the attributes or assets,” says Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations.
The U.S. is now attempting to combine those fixed seabed systems, as well as sub-hunting ships and aircraft, with mobile networks of sensors, some mounted on underwater drones that can be deployed by ships, planes or subs, say officers familiar with the plans.
At the same time, those officers say, the U.S. Navy is exploring ways to tap data from sensors used by other countries in the region, especially around chokepoints that Chinese subs must pass to reach the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
“We’re very close with the Australians in this regard, very close with the Japanese in this regard, working to a greater degree with the Koreans in this regard, the Singaporeans,” says Adm. Greenert. “The Malays, the Indonesians, are increasing their interest and willingness.”
The exact location of Sosus hydrophones in Asia remains classified. Researchers and former submariners familiar with the system say there are several arrays around Japan, which played a key role hunting for Soviet subs in the Cold War, and around Australia’s Christmas Island.
The problem with cable-based hydrophones is that they require regular maintenance and shore stations in friendly countries. Fixed seabed hydrophones can only act as a virtual trip wire, signaling that a sub is passing at that moment. They are also most effective in relatively deep water with little congestion.
Recent U.S. efforts have focused on developing mobile undersea surveillance networks for congested and shallow waters like those near China’s coast.
The U.S. Navy has deployed one such network—the Persistent Littoral Undersea Surveillance, or PLUS, system—which uses seabed sensors and unmanned vehicles that relay data via satellite. “We’ve deployed PLUS,” says Adm. Greenert. “We sent it out on a mission—I can’t tell you where—and it was effective.”
He says that PLUS requires further testing but that the Navy is already using some small undersea drones for anti-sub warfare.
The biggest obstacles: Most underwater drones run on batteries that last only a few hours, and communicating with them is tough, given how slowly data passes through water.
A U.S. Navy Bluefin-21 underwater drone — similar to those used for sub-hunting — goes into action in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.ENLARGE
A U.S. Navy Bluefin-21 underwater drone — similar to those used for sub-hunting — goes into action in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. REUTERS
“You can think of underwater telecommunications as being roughly where the Internet was 30 years ago,” says Mandar Chitre, an expert in underwater acoustics at the National University of Singapore who took part in the November experiment.

Singaporean developed and deployed UNET naval surveillance system

Singapore has made significant advances in underwater acoustics in recent years, developing a system called UNET that monitors undersea activity off Singapore using a network of seabed sensors, undersea drones and surface nodes that relay data over a mobile-phone network.
Singaporean waters are considered especially challenging because of varying depth, busy shipping and the snapping shrimp—a creature whose distinctive noise has long troubled undersea-warfare specialists.
The experiment in November was to link the Singaporean network to a U.S. system called Seaweb, which is being developed by the Naval Postgraduate School with funding from the Office of Naval Research. “The results were very good,” Prof. Chitre says.
A spokeswoman for Singapore’s Defense Ministry confirmed that it had co-sponsored the experiment on linking UNET to Seaweb, but didn’t respond to questions about its broader purpose or applications to anti-submarine warfare.
Public information about Seaweb shows that it aims to create a new global network of submarine sensors from the U.S., its NATO allies and other friendly countries.
“The idea behind Seaweb,” says Rear Adm. Philip Sawyer, commander of U.S. submarine forces in the Pacific, is “to network various nodes through the undersea environment and be able to tap that data and bring it where you want, whether it’s Singapore or San Diego.”
“To be able to watch and monitor everything, we need a networked system,” he says" 
The U.S. Navy is also testing another mobile sub-surveillance network, called PLUS, which uses a drone called the Remus 600, seen here.E

The U.S. Navy is also testing another mobile sub-surveillance network, called PLUS, which uses a drone called the Remus 600, seen here. KONGSBERG MARITIME


The article confirms Australia by the Indian Ocean's earlier Seaweb article of May 20, 2014 at http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2014/05/us-navies-seaweb-undersea-warfare.html 

A longer description  of Seaweb is at http://calhoun.nps.edu/bitstream/handle/10945/40397/Rice_Undersea_Networked_Acoustic_Communications_UUST2002.pdf?sequence=1 .


October 25, 2014

Revised - Suspected Russian Mini Submarine, Divers? in Swedish Waters

The red pointer marks the site of suspected Russian submarine and/or diver activity in mid October 2014. The close proximity to Stockholm may indicate this is part of a agent drop-off or pick-up activity. Or it maybe connected to Russian electronic monitoring of nearby naval exercises, monitoring Stockholm's own telecommunications grid or tapping an undersea cable.

The many rocks and islets in Swedish waters mean complex and dangerous undersea obstructions and currents for any submarine crew unfamiliar with the conditions.  

The Piranha ("Losos") class mini submarine (or an updated version) may displace 220 tons surfaced - making it suited to closed waters - although more susceptible to currents. 
More detail on Piranha (Project 865, NATO - Losos). Photos courtesy of Covert Warfare Naval Blog.

An interesting feature of Piranha-Losos is the two tubular storage bins for diver propulsion devices (2 divers per device) which give the Piranha-Losos a characteristic hump back. It can also launch two torpedo-like diver propulsion devices . Such devices (see Sirena UME in diagram above) are suited to even shallower water and for easy diver deployment onto rocks, islets or into inlets and beaches near Stockholm.  

With Piranha-Losos entering service in the the early 1990s, these were purpose built special operations craft. The post-Soviet Russian Navy did not see the need to operate dedicated craft and they were discarded in the early 2000's after attempts to sell them abroad were unsuccessful despite considerable interest in the design. 

However Russia's resurgent military and intelligence goals under Putin may have included new mini-submarine and diver propulsion device projects. New, more stealthy, developments of the Piranha may have been completed. The necessary development trials may well have required increasingly realistic exercises. 

Was the activity off Stockholm one such evercise or was it a full operation?

Two Piranha-Losos mini-subs - with the load carry storage bins very obvious.  As well as diver propulsion devises such storage bins are capable of carrying torpedos or mines.

The starboard storage bin tray is seen with two Protei-5 diver propulsion devices. Photo: rcmodelsubmarines.co.uk
Characteristics of the Piranha-Losos mini-submarine: Length - 28.2 meters, Width - 4.8m, Displacement - 218 tons surfaced, 319 tons submerged, Speed - 7 kts surfaced, submerged speed unknown. Crew - 3 submariners + 6 (divers, other special forces or agents).


I think it very likely Sweden and NATO would early on had a clear idea of what type of Russian submarine(s) or divers-frogmen (if any) were involved in this latest embarrassment. Active sonar on many platforms and many other types of sensor modes would have effectively "shaped" the Russian underwater activity. Also the many technical characteristics of the Russian emergency transmissions would have pointed to the type of Russian sub or diver modes involved. 

It is more a Swedish-Russian diplomatic matter that Sweden has not divulged full details. Many of the details will be authorised-leaked in time - maybe years. 

The suspected Russian submarine (or divers) that making a distress call in Swedish waters may be a Russian  Piranha mini special forces submarine, Triton-NN or other mini submarine. Swimming divers in trouble?

The close proximity to Stockholm may indicate:

-  this is part of a agent drop-off or pick-up activity or

-   maybe connected to Russian electronic monitoring of nearby naval exercises, of Stockholm's own telecommunications grid or monitoring an undersea cable.

Less likely are full sized submarines being directly involved rather than acting as mother-ships, launch points for a diver-propulsion vehicle:

- a Russian Kilo class conventionally propelled submarine somehow involved? A Russian Kilo Class submarine - at up to 2,350 tons surfaced probably too large to operate safely in  the restricted littorals off Stockholm. Russia's more advanced Lada class submarine(s) are likely to be equally large. or

- a Lada class submarine (B-585 Saint Petersburg) involved. In which case its developing Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system may have technically malfunctioned? or

- much less likely a nuclear propelled submarine such as the Akula class SSN involved.

Any Kilo, Lada or special forces mini-submarine would likely be from Russia's Baltic Fleet base at the enclave of Kaliningrad Oblast (bordered by the Baltic, Poland in the south and Lithuania in the north) and fairly close to Stockholm.


Suspected Russian submarines have made many embarrassing forays into Swedish waters in the past.

As usual Wikipedia proves invaluable - see entry within  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedish_submarine_incidents#List_of_major_reported_incidents:

"October 17-23, 2014
A large military operation is launched to search for an allegedly damaged submarine in Kanholmsfjärden in the Stockholm archipelago. Encrypted transmissions sent on an emergency radio frequency used by Russian units were recorded. The sources of the transmissions were identified as a submarine and a military site in the Kaliningrad region.[13][14][15][16] On 19 October the military said there had been three separate sightings and released a picture of the unidentified submarine to the public.[17] There were also suggestions that the Russian Oil-tanker NS Concord was involved as a mother-ship for smaller underwater vehicles as it maintained a pattern of criss-crossing outside Stockholm during the investigation.[18] 

Several days later, the hunt was still on as officials were certain that foreign underwater operations were still ongoing.[19] More than 100 sightings were now reported, said Supreme Commander Göransson.[20] Paul Schwartz at Center for Stategic International Studies, CSIS, said the photograph could be a Russian Lada-class submarine.[21]"


October 20, 2014

India's Nirbhay Cruise Missile 2nd Strike Weapon

A Nirbhay cruise missile prior to testing.

A test of the Nirbhay cruise missile - most probably the October 17, 2014 test. 


Following a successful second test of India's Nirbhay cruise missile on October 17, 2014 it is a good time to discuss the Nirbhay's role. This second test follows the first test on March 12, 2013. Being a relatively small missile the Nirbhay (Sanskrit for "fearless") can potentially be launched by any means including land-mobile launchers, fighter-bombers, surface ships or (nuclear or conventionally propelled) submarines. The Nirbhay's warhead may be conventional high explosive, nuclear or chemical (biological is possible but increasingly unlikely). The inherent vulnerability of this subsonic cruise missile to anti-aircraft or dedicated anti-missile defences makes it less suitable as a nuclear delivery vehicle only. The dual-use or triple-use ambiguity makes it inadvisable to fire a Nirbhay as a first strike against a nuclear armed country. 

The Nirbhay might fit well into India's second strike only strategy against the most likely aggressors (Pakistan and China).  The Nirbhay's estimated range of 1,500 km would permit any part of Pakistan to be hit from Indian territory or perhaps from the Arabian Sea. From the Bay of Bengal some Chinese targets could be hit. With difficulty Nirbhay armed Indian subs could cross into the Western Pacific in order to hit some of China's major coastal cities. If fired by submarine the Nirbhay's 0.52m diameter makes it deliverable from a conventionally powered submarine's (SSK's) standard 0.533m torpedo tubes - thus giving SSKs a more potent nuclear warfare role than shorter range nuclear tipped Klub or Harpoon SLCMs allow. 

Alternatively Nirbhays could be fired from a future Indian SSN's or SSGN's vertical launch tubes - thus eventually giving India a dual-use capability for those two submarine classes. In the Indian Ocean most of India's potential targets will be non-nuclear armed countries making these dual-use subs more economical than nuclear weapon only K-15 or K-4 armed future Indian SSBNs.

Further details on the second test and comments on the Nirbhay's strategic role are at http://thediplomat.com/2014/10/meet-indias-new-nuclear-cruise-missile/ .


October 4, 2014

Soryu Submarine - Many Unknowns and Modifications Needed

A Soryu submarine prior to launch or under maintenance. Click on image to massively expand.
Graeme Dunk, writing on the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI's) blog The Strategist has written a thought provoking article of October 2, 2014,  below. Graeme argues that there are many unknowns in any purchase of Japan's Soryu as Australia's future submarine. Also many modifications would be needed for the Soryu to meet Australian requirements. The string for Graeme Dunk's article is http://www.aspistrategist.org.au/governments-and-balance-sheets-submarines-and-industry-in-australia/ :

"Governments and balance sheets—submarines and industry in Australia

2Oct 2014
It now seems a real possibility that the replacement for the Collins-class submarines might come from Japan, rather than being built in Australia as previously promised by the government. The principal argument for that proposal is the supposed cost for the capability acquired—with a figure of $25 billion being considered better value for money than the somewhat woolly $50–80 billion for the local alternative. In the Australian Financial Review on 8 September (‘Japanese subs on the way’), Prime Minister Abbott is quoted as saying that ‘The most important thing is to get the best and most capable submarines at a reasonable price for the Australian taxpayer’.
While a simple comparison of potential costs is sobering (and obviously intended to be so) the arguments presented to date have been somewhat simplistic and don’t take into account the full range of factors upon which such a decision should be based. They also show a spectacularly naïve view on what comprises capability.
In his article ‘Option J for FSM—a Japanese solution?’ Peter Briggs undertakes a comparison of the Japanese Soryu-class with the Collins-class submarine and finds that on an operational basis the Soryu doesn’t stack up as well as claimed.
What we don’t know is what’s included in the figure of $25 billion. Is it the acquisition cost only? Does it include any through-life support; and if so to what level, where? Does it include modifications to existing facilities that will be required for maintenance done in Australia, and for re-training Australia’s submariners? Does it include facilities costs in Japan to cater for a submarine that won’t be the Soryu-class—even though it might look like one from the outside? Does it include full access to the Soryu-class design and all associated intellectual property? What level of technology transfer will be provided? If it does not include all IP, what will be included and how are the risks of handling a new design to be mitigated? All of those issues have the potential vastly to inflate the stated $25 billion cost, create schedule delays, and add to the overall sovereign risk.
A similar series of questions might be aimed at the local option—although it could be reasonably assumed that the ‘$50 to $80 billion’ cost includes every cost that could conceivably be associated with a locally-built submarine. Until we get a true comparison we can’t make a sensible judgment.
What’s also clear is that the ‘Australian-Soryu’ will have a different combat system, different sonar and different weapons to the off-the-shelf version operated by the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force. Will it also have a different propulsion system and battery to overcome the range and indiscretion-rate limitations of the Soryu? The result will be an ‘evolved-Soryu’, developed in Japan with Japanese designers and workers, rather than an ‘evolved-Collins’ developed in Australia with Australian designers and Australian workers. All the design effort to date on the evolved-Collinsand the new submarine design options will be wasted. We’ll have to—or have to pay the Japanese to—start again on the evolved-Soryu option. We’re also likely to have to pay to have the Japanese shipyards to incorporate that new design into their build program. That doesn’t seem a sensible way in which to approach the much-discussed submarine capability gap.
We seem to be heading into a strategically important decision on the basis of a short-term ‘sugar kick’ to the balance sheet, rather than sound strategic considerations. What’s required at this point is some transparency from the government—with regard to the detail of the potential purchase from Japan, and with respect to the assessment and application of strategic and sovereign risks. The pending decision is too important to be made on a whim.
Graeme Dunk is manager of Australian Business Defence Industry, a national defence industry association. Image courtesy of Flickr user mcgovernville."