May 26, 2016

How to Donate - a 2 Page Submarine Matters Report Each Month


I have been considering what extra service I could provide to Donors and decided to email a special Submarine Matters Report to Donors on the 2nd Wednesday of each month. This will start on  Wednesday June 8, 2016.

My thanks to Donors who have donated the $50 (per year).

Please donate by: 

1. going to the right sidebar of Submarine Matters at  

2. then clicking on the Donate button which allows payment through the Paypal system.

I shall email the Report (a 2 page Word Attachment) to Donors' email addresses.

Proposed topics for Reports include:

-  Southeast Asian Submarine Developments - to be emailed to Donors on June 8, 2016.

-  Chinese Arms Sales to Southeast Asia

-  SeaWeb Developments

-  South Asian Submarine Developments

-  Chinese Submarine Developments

-  Australia Naval Shipbuilding Plan (due late 2016)

-  French and German Submarine Developments

-  Japanese Arms Export Prospects

-  Australia's Submarine Combat System Selection (due late 2016)

If a Donor would like to suggest a Report on an additional topic please email me to discuss it.



May 25, 2016

Submarine Trends since 1990 - Actually fewer nuclear.

The diagram/map above is "Changes in the global submarine market since 1990" in The Military Balance 2015 Chapter 2: Comparative defence statistics, pp: 21-28. (Courtesy the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) London, Febuary 2015).

The biggest changes since 1990 have been:
-  far fewer US + Russian submarines overall by 2014, along with  
-  far fewer nuclear submarines worldwide.

United States

Under the Reagan Administration 1981-1989 there was very rapid US submarine building in pursuit of the 600 ship navy. During the Reagan years alone this included completion of 11 Ohio-class SSBNs and 28 Los Angeles-class SSNs. This rapid building program was in addition to high pre-existing numbers. So by 1990 the US had 125 nuclear = 36 SSBNs + 89 SSNs). No operational US SSKs.

The reduction in the Russian threat 1990-2010 permited a gradual decline in US numbers under the "peace dividend". From 125 there has been a steady decline in SSBN and SSN categories - though a  small rise of 4 in SSGNs.  

Soviet Union/Russia

Architect of the Soviet Navy Fleet Admiral Gorshkov believed that "quantity had a quality of its own" meaning high tempo, post WWII building of nuclear and conventional subs, with very few subs retired. By 1990 the Soviet Navy consisted of a large (Soviet Empire breaking) total of 273  submarines including: 
-  63 SSBNs
-  72 SSGNs
-  64 SSNs
-  65 SSKs

-    9 “auxiliary” (mothership and testbed)

Lack of money for crews, operations, maintenance and new subs led to the decommissioning of 200  Soviet/Russian nuclear submarines in the early 1990s.

Other Countries

In the 1990s many other countries slowed submarine procurement as part of the peace dividend. But regional tensions and some technical improvements have maintained or increased submarine numbers. Rising submarine aspirations of China and North Korea, from a very low base, have substantially added to the numbers of conventional subs in Asia.

Regional Tensions

Have included:

Turkey vs Greece
Israel vs Arab countries vs Iran
India vs Pakistan
India vs China
China vs all surrounding powers (Russia, US, Japan, South Korea, India)
North Korea vs all surrounding countries (Japan, South Korea, US, arguably China and Russia)
Vietnam vs China
Japanese and South Korean distrust (maintaining numbers).
Japan vs (Russia, China and North Korea)
Russia vs (all nuclear powers and Japan)
Southeast Asian nations distrust of each other and China
Latin America distrust and anti-drug smuggling

Business Opportunities 

Arms companies making submarines an essential naval component and political prestige item in all regions.

Some middlemen in some countries seeing the high costs of submarines as an opportunity to seek  "commissions" to provide necessary permissions.

Technological Improvements Leading to Gradual Arms Race

-  Several countries seeing subs as platforms for nuclear ballistic missiles. Ballistic include India, 
   China and North Korea. Nuclear cruise include Israel, Pakistan and North Korea.
-  SSNs, SSGNs and SSKs as platforms for "carrier killing" anti-ship missiles
-  SSBNs as second nuclear strike platforms and for some countries (like the UK) the only national
   nuclear weapon platform
-  Ability of SSNs, SSGNs to launch conventional warhead land attack cruise missiles used by the
   USN and UKRN since the 1990s and by Russia since 2015. Land attack cruise missiles are
   increasingly envisaged by some navies in Europe, Vietnam and maybe Indonesia and Australia.

Air independent propulsion (AIP), nuclear propulsion, and Lithium-ion Batteries have made little impact on overall numbers of submarines compared to the numbers of plain diesel-electic submarines operating in the late 1940s and 1950s. But the size and firepower of nuclear submarines is much greater than diesel-electic submarines.


May 24, 2016

The UK Trident SSBN Debate MAY be settled this year

UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon talks to journalist Kirsty Wark (who asks some searching questions). This is 6 minutes of UK Newsnight special on the future of the Trident SSBN. 

For years the UK has debated whether to replace the UK's existing Vanguard class SSBNs with a new set of four SSBNs. As the Vanguards are armed with Trident missiles, as is intended for the replacement SSBNs, (the Successor class) the issue is frequently called the Trident Debate. 

Arguments against a new class of UK SSBNs appear to be rather naive. In a world with countries like North Korea and Iran developing hypersonic ballistic missiles (then arm them with nuclear warheads) some in the UK believe that the UK's new submarines could merely be armed with slow subsonic cruise missiles. Some in the UK go further in suggesting that Russian nuclear aggression could be deterred by British fighter bombers carrying freefall nuclear bombs 1950s style.

The issue is major because UK's Trident missiles are the UK's only active nuclear deterrent. Trident is also an important aspect of the UK's alliance with the US. The Trident missiles and SSBNs apparently cost just 6% of the UK's defence budget.

Another issue is whether there should be a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent (CASD). If a SSBN does not need to be at sea 24/7 the implication is that a smaller force of only 2 or 3 submarines would be adequate. But this assumes an enemy (say Russia) would not spring surprises.

Some in the British Labour Party reason that the rift between the unilateral disarmament Labour Left and the shipbuilding Unions (who want to build new SSBNs) could be healed if the Unions built four SSBNs but did not arm them with nuclear missiles ($50 Billion white elephants).

Oh the idiocy!

The final decision (known as "Main Gate") to build new SSBNs (or not) is meant to be made by the UK Parliament later this year. Trident alternatives, in more detail, are below.

See much larger image here (Diagram courtesy SIPRI and the Financial Times)


May 23, 2016

Turnbull's Vote-Magnet Shipbuilding Promises are Labor Proof

(Flow-chart courtesy The Daily Telegraph based on Defence Teaming Australia advice, mid August 2015). In terms of cost estimates the A$17 Billion might be for a build of just 8 submarines. 12 submarines and the lower Australian dollar, since August 2015, may boost 17 up to A$25 Billion. As most of the submarine build will likely be in 13 years time (the 2030-2040s) inflation could double the figure, hence 2 x 25 = A$50 Billion (the most frequently quoted build estimate). 

Submarine Matters will comment about once a fortnight on Australian ship (especially submarine) building issues in the runup to the July 2, 2016 Election.

After Prime Minister Turnbul's rush of shipbuilding announcements on:
-  April 18, 2016 (Offshore Patrol Vessels, Future Frigates, Pacific Patrol Boats) and
-  April 26, 2016 DCNS winning the submarine CEP, with build in Adelaide

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) Opposition and Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) have found it very difficult to criticise Turnbull's continuous shipbuilding strategy. They cannot criticise the extravagance of the shipbuilding promises because Turnbull is offering money and jobs for:
-  unionised workers (the ALP's natural constituency) and
-  workers and managers in South Australia (NXT's main constituency)

Even the ALP Government of South Australia under Premier Jay Weatherill has praised the Turnbull Government's South Australian centric shipbuilding program. 

The only opportunity for the ALP and Xenophon's NXT to criticise Turnbull was over the already 2 month old decision to have 2 naval supply ships built by Navantia in Spain. A criticism that did not "stick".

So the Turnbull Government is finding building of ships (and subs) in Australia to be a sound Vote-Magnet. But the inability of the ALP to criticise extravagant shipbuilding plans may encourage over-spending at the expense (opportunity cost) of other defence and civilian projects. 

There are two major milestones that may undue Turnbull's nicely played shipbuilding strategy:

1.  as announced April 26, 2016 the Turnbull Government is releasing a Naval Shipbuilding Plan AFTER the July 2, 2016 Election with a “review of the workforce, skills and infrastructure needs” for the “Future Submarine program…Future Frigate program and…Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) program…”. This may well allocate shipbuilding work to States that are less electorally unpredictable than the main shipbuilding beneficiaries (South Australia and Western Australia). That is Turnbull might give more of the ship/submarine section building work to Coalition leaning New South Wales (NSW) with NSW also receiving the submarine steel-making contract (at Port Kembla), And

2.  if the ALP wins the Election its leader, Bill Shorten, may well allocate more OPV and Frigate section building work to the ALP heartland in Williamstown, Victoria. Williamstown should also "win" on its own merits - having proved itself an efficient shipyard in the ANZAC class frigate and Canberra class LHD builds.

Aside from milestones there is a speed-bump. South Australians may underestimate how long the necessary submarine design negotiations between Australia and DCNS may stretch. It may take 3 to 5 years before the Future Submarine project begins to generate a substantial number of jobs in South Australia.

Turnbull may have done well in the shipbuilding program, so far, but the industry can expect some surprises. 

Please connect this with Submarine Matter's Turnbull's Pre-Election Shipbuilding Rush - Table of Ship/Sub Acquisitions, May 5, 2016.


May 22, 2016

Secret German High Tech Submarine Propeller Covertly Photographed

At great personal risk an agent has taken these rare photos of a complex propeller used to power one of the latest German Type 212A submarinesNatürlich the agent's modus operandi remains forever secret. However, so as not to "blow his cover" he may well have used a button camera to take these incriminating photos. The strange small propeller at the end of the 212A's more conventional 7 blade propeller is called a Propeller Boss Cap Fins (PBCF).

An effective submarine is made more efficient using a wide range of small, but significant, improvements. 

Up to a point the greater the number of propeller blades the slower the propeller needs to rotate to allow the submarine to reach the average patrol speed of around 5 knots. Slower rotation is one way to delay any onset of noisy, propeller damaging cavitation.

The strange small propeller at the end of the German Type 212A submarine's more conventional 7 blade propeller is called a Propeller Boss Cap Fins (PBCF).

An open Japanese website explains

"PBCF device was developed in 1987 by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, West Japan Fluid Engineering Laboratory, and Mikado Propeller (Nakashima Mitsuwa Propeller) and it has been adopted by installed on more than 3,000 vessels worldwide. Its fundamental mechanism and effects have been repeatedly verified through numerous series of model tank tests and actual ship measurements from the first stage of the development."

Figure 1 courtesy PBCF website.

PBCFs are small fins fitted to a propeller’s boss cap and are made of the same material as the boss cap as shown on the righthand diagram of Figure 1.

Tests on over 60 ships (and preumably Type 212A submarines) have shown benefits of 4-5% in fuel savings and an increase in speed of about 2% (at the same rotation rate). Without the fins, the flow of water around the propeller generates a hub vortex that wastes almost 10% of the engine's energy. The PBCF may also reduce a submarine's stern vibrations, hence reducing underwater noise. A quiet propeller, of course, adds to submarine stealth.

  This June 2015 PBCF promotional video indicates at:

  0:27 - the Propeller Boss Cap Fins developers
01:10 - why PBCF is successful?
02:10 - testing concept it in a cavitation tank
03:35 - adding PBC Fins efficiency advantages
06:45 - PBCF effects graphs

An effective submarine is made more efficient using a wide range of small improvements. The Propeller Boss Cap Fin is just one improvement that might be present on many more submarines than the Type 212A.