July 1, 2015

Russian Torpedos

Russian Type 53 (533mm) torpedos inside a Kilo 877EKM submarine. (Courtesy http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/kilo877/ ) which advises:

 "The Type 877EKM has six 533mm torpedo tubes and carries 18 heavyweight torpedoes (six in the tubes and 12 on the racks), with an automatic rapid loader. 

[Only] Two targets can be engaged simultaneously. Two of the launch tubes can fire the TEST-71MKE TV electric homing torpedo, which has an active sonar homing system with TV guidance which allows the operator to manually switch to an alternative target, and can manoeuvre in two axes. It weighs 1,820kg with a 205kg explosive charge. 

The submarine is also fitted with UGST wake-homing torpedoes. This torpedo weighs 2,200kg with a 200kg explosive charge. It has a range of up to 40km, and a depth of search of up to 500m. The tubes are also capable of deploying 24 mines."

Countries have used anti-torpedo measures for over a century. Sinodefenceforum explains a recent project "The US Navy is actively developing and testing a comprehensive anti-torpedo weapon system that is called the Surface ShipTorpedo Defense (SSTD) system [diagram above] consisting of  [sensors and target acuisition and] a Countermeasure Anti-Torpedo (CAT) against incoming enemy torpedos of all types.

Three main types of heavyweight Russian torpedos include:

-  Type 53 - a 533mm torpedo. Possibly the most common Russian torpedo type. The Type 53 torpedo family contain numerous possible types of sensors including sonar, TV, magnetic, wake pressure and contact etc. They may home into a surface ship's wake or a stationary ship. The 53-65 became operational in 1965, while the 53-65K and 53-65M both became operational in 1969. The 53-65KE is an exported version. China received an unknown number of 53-65KE torpedoes from Russia after purchasing 4 Kilo class submarines in the 1990s. The Type 53 torpedo is carried by almost all Russian submarines, including Kilo class and  Akula class. Range: 18+ km, Speed: 83 km/h (45 kt), Warhead: 307.6 kilograms.

-  Type 65 for 650mm torpedos originally developed to counter US Navy aircraft carrier battle groups, large merchant ships like supertankers, and advanced enemy submarines. Russian officials believe that a 65-76A modification of this torpedo is responsible for the explosion of the Kursk. Range: 50 km at 93 km/h (50 knots), 100 km at 56 km/h. Homing: active/passive sonar and wire guidance. Warhead: 450/557 kg high explosive. Propulsion probably gas-turbine powered by hydrogen peroxide, kerosene and compressed air fuel. Driving contra-rotating propellers.

If a Type 65 is fired at over-the-horizon extreme range such platforms as satellites or UAVs may provide final aiming information (for example against a carrier battle group). Klub missiles, launched by the submarine, might also assist in aiming - as well as the Klubs directly tarketing the carrier battle group.

-  VA-111 Shkval torpedo - Russia's most publicized torpedo due to its unusually rare propulsion. This extremely noisy 533mm rocket powered torpedo is supercavitating . It is  thought to be used as a revenge weapon (when the host sub is about to be destroyed) hence the host sub being detected, due to it launching a noisy Shkval, is a low consideration. Only 2, 1 or none might be carried on most Russian subs.

MHalblaub's mention at of Russian torpedos is useful. MHalblaub  advises that “The Russian do use a hypergolic propellant (Kerosene + hydrogen peroxide) for torpedoes (remember the Kursk!)" The Kursk leakage of its hydrogen peroxide fuel onto metals and oxides in a Type 65 or 53 torpedo, resulting in a chemical reaction that culminated in an explosion of the fuel and a kerosene tank and the Kursk's eventual destruction.

Russian lightweight torpedos and mines next.


Two A26s Ordered by Sweden

Saab-Kockum's new video on the A26. (Courtesy Saab A26 website)

Sweden's AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se) reports June 30, 2015 http://www.thelocal.se/20150630/saab-signs-deal-worth-billions-for-swedish-subs:

Saab signs deal worth billions for Swedish subs
[What the two new A26s might look like. (Artwork by Saab AB)]

Saab signs deal worth billions for Swedish subs

UPDATED: A deal between Swedish defence giant Saab and Sweden's military for two submarines worth 8.6 billion kronor (US$1.04 billion) is set to boost jobs in the Nordic country, chief executive Håkan Buskhe said on [June 30, 2015].
“We are of course very pleased,” Saab chief executive Håkan Buskhe told reporters at a press conference in Visby, where he is attending Sweden's politics festival Almedalen Week.
He said the order would create around one hundred jobs at the Swedish defence and security company.
“This means some hundred new employees in both Malmö and Karlskrona,” he said.
The order from the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) covers the construction of two new Type A26 submarines, as well as a mid-life upgrade for two Gotland-class submarines.
Deliveries of the two new subs will take place in 2022 and 2024, Saab said in a statement.
The upgraded subs will be delivered in late 2018 and late 2019.
Saab said the A26 was a high-tech submarine with “long-endurance submerged performance and excellent manoeuvrability in all waters”.
It added the new subs would be “highly survivable thanks to modern underwater stealth technology and a unique heritage of shock resistant design”.
The subs will be powered by conventional diesel-electric propulsion machinery and equipped with the Kockums Stirling Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) system, making them difficult to detect.
In April, the Swedish government announced plans to raise defence spending by 10.2 billion kronor ($1.18 billion) for 2016-2020, mostly to modernize ships to detect and intercept submarines, amid increasing Russian military activity in the Baltic Sea region.
Sweden has a long-standing tradition of military non-alliance, but support for Nato membership has increased in recent years, largely due to fears of a potentially aggressive Russia.
A major poll last month suggested that nearly one in three think Sweden should join the defence alliance
AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)"

At around 1,900 tonnes (surfaced or submerged?) the A26 will be much heavier than Sweden is used to. This would be a large sub to move in the very shallow and narrow waters of its mainly Baltic operating area. The A26's size will improve Sweden's ability to confront Russian forces outside the Baltic - in the North, Norwegian or Barents Seas.

With a large horizontal diver/diver delivery vehicle tube large displacement UUVs (LDUUVs) could be launched to more safely approach the Russian Baltic Fleet's Base at Kaliningrad Oblast (an enclave). 

Sweden is accustomed to working with 1,500 tonne (surfaced) Gotlands and 1,400 tonne (surfaced) Sodermanlands. One reason Sweden may be building A26s at 1,900 tonnes is to provide a sub with increased export potential to the Asia-Pacific market where ever heavier subs are being bought. It is possible a smaller version A26 might also be exported to Poland and Norway and larger version to Canada and the Netherlands.

While the two A26s are being built and 2 Gotlands overhauled Sweden will rely on three subs - the two Sodermanlands and the third Gotland class.


June 27, 2015

Chinese Yuan Submarines for Thailand?

What may well be a Chinese Type 039A "Yuan" class submarine. An S-26T derivative may be  exported to Thailand.

On a recent Comments thread Nicky identified Bangkok Post reports that Thailand is buying submarines from China.
To go back three months mDeletey post Thailand may eventually purchase two submarines, March 25, 2015  identified the possibility the Thai Navy may want two diesel-powered submarines with displacement of 2,400-3,000 tonnes. The source said the Chinese-made Yuan class is favoured by the committee due to its specifications. The "U-class" [do they mean U-209 class?] from South Korea and Germany also pinged the sonar screen." 

Later, on June 25, 2015. a Bangkok Post article indicated:
the navy said a committee working on a plan to buy submarines has finalised its option - it's likely to go for the Chinese-made submarines - and will submit the proposal to the cabinet for approval next month...The 36-billion-baht [US$1.07 Billion] budget covers two submarines, as well as maintenance and training of the navy's personnel. Some reports say China has offered special, undisclosed packages to win the deal. Sources in the navy said there are two short-listed countries. China is the No.1 option, followed by South Korea."

The next day (June 26, 2015) the Bangkok Post reported China is offering three submarines (“12 billion baht [US$355 million] each”) with Germany or South Korea possible second choices and Russia, Sweden and France eliminated.


The unusual decision making process of the Navy declaring a possible result may be a strong encouragement for the Cabinet to finally make a decision after much submarine acquisition hesitancy over the years. Lack of Navy clarity on whether it will get three or two submarines, for the US$Billion total, might indicate the Navy is hoping for three.

China is an unconfirmed choice with room that the Thailand may still be aiming for a better deal from South Korea or Germany before the Thai Cabinet (including the dominant Army representation) makes the final decision.

If China is finally chosen then a submarine with some features of the large Type 039A "Yuan" class submarines and some features of the smaller Type 035 Ming class is possible. The result of this Yuan-Ming combination may be the "S-20" with specifications including: 1,850 tons (surfaced), Range: 8,000 nm at 16 kn, crew of 38, with or without Stirling AIP. China more specifically may be offering a Yuan S-26T (T for Thailand) version .

Three new subs (with support and training) for US$1 Billion is mysteriously cheap. Despite the Yuan S-20 or S-26T drawing-board designs it is unclear whether China is offering:

-  new build submarines?

-  used and refurbished?

-  Stirling AIP included?

China’s submarine sales at low prices campaign is a major new political phenomenon. Economically this is in competition with European, South Korean and potential Japanese suppliers. In late 2013 China had its first submarine export success in concluding a deal to sell two obsolete Type 035 “Ming” class submarines to Bangladesh

Pakistan has long repeated claims over the years that China is “about to” export varying numbers of submarines to Pakistan. To date this has appeared wishful thinking - however a more substantial news article has come to hand that records a visit of a Chinese Yuan to Karachi around May 22-29, 2015 - it being possible the Pakistan's body politic are being provided a pre-purchase or pre-gift inspection.

In the area of possibilities North Korea is always a potential recipient of submarines as is Myanmar. The Philippines and Cambodia are other ASEAN countries without submarines so far.


June 25, 2015

Technical problems: Fuel Cell AIP and Hull Cutting

Illustrated by the Type 214 submarine - it shows how potentially difficult it may be to rearrange the Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC) AIP and "Main components" (FCPPs) when  replacements are required. Type 214s apparently use a large hatch. But such a hatch or hull cutting may weaken the hulls of deep diving Soryus.  (Diagram originally from thaifighterclub.org )

A SINAVY PEM Fuel Cell module. Difficult to squeeze such a large awkward item into a submarine while rearranging parts already in the submarine. The module's dimensions are 500mm x 530mm x 1.47 meters long (making for a 500mm x 530mm diagonal measurement of approximately 720mm (too big to squeeze through a torpedo tube!)

In Comments on June 24, 2015 at 9:48 PM “S” raised the following interesting issues. I have altered some of the English for clarity:

The Japanese Ministry of Defence (MOD) was researching fuel cell AIP but decided to end this research. The MOD indicated one of the main reasons was that it could not overcome the issue of hull-cutting required when exchanging fuel cell stacks. The lifetime of a Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC) is 40,000 hours for continuous running. But for actual submarine operations, the lifetime is expected to be shorter because of adverse effect of inevitable start-and-stop conditions. In a test taking into account realistic start-and-stop cycles the estimated lifetime of the PEMFC AIP is 2,000-4,000 hours.

[S provided the source for the above figures which is http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/fuel_cell_technology [Last updated May 4, 2015]:
“If operated in a vehicle, the PEMFC stack has an estimated service life of 2,000-4,000 hours. Start-and-stop conditions induce drying and wetting that contribute to membrane stress. Running continuously, the stationary stack is good for about 40,000 hours. Stack replacement is a major expense.

S added “[Lithium-ion Batteries] LIBs and Lead Acid Batteries can be exchanged through a [Soryu’s existing hatch], but PEMFCs cannot. A PEMFC is too big. It means that we would have to exchange a PEMFC by hull-cutting, which is very complicated and expensive and includes rearrangement or adjustment of hydrogen stage or delivery system. Various impacts (reduction in hull strength, life shortening, hull-cutting and rewelding periods, verification periods, increase cost, etc) must be considered every 4,000[?] hours or less running time.

[S asked the following questions]

1.  How many times do we have to cut the hull during the 22 years of operating a Japanese submarine?

2.  Should we avoid possible hull-cutting by significantly reducing the operating period of a Japanese submarine?

I asked whether squeezing the PEMFC into the submarine through a torpedo tube was possible (I measured the Fuel Cell module's recorded height (500mm and width 530mm to give a diagonal approximately 720mm - which is too big for a 533mm torpedo tube)

S responded that it might be possible to fit a PEMFC through a hatch as occurs with German submarines. 

The illustrations of PEMFC at the top of the article are probably the most helpful - also see  http://www.industry.siemens.com/verticals/global/de/marine/marineschiffe/energieverteilung/Documents/sinavy-pem-fuel-cell-en.pdf Fig.5 (page7) of and Table (page9).

MHalblaub indicated that on http://www.industry.siemens.com/verticals/global/de/marine/marineschiffe/energieverteilung/Documents/sinavy-pem-fuel-cell-en.pdf page 10 ' that a SINAVY PEM fuel cell module size is 500mm x 530mm x 1.47 meters.


Japan has a whole range of technical tradeoff (costs and benefits) decisions to make. For example making a large hatch in the hull to exchange PEMFCs may weaken the hull for especially deep diving Soryus.

Please connect with my article Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) Technologies and Selection, August 5, 2014 http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2014/08/air-independent-propulsion-aip.html 


June 22, 2015

Submarines beware of China's seafloor sensor arrays

The diagram on page 16 of American ex-submariner, Bryan Clark’s important paper The Emerging Era in Undersea Warfare, January 22, 2015 is interesting.

Anti-submarine detections systems have a long history. The UK Royal Navy (RN) successfully developed a hydrophone system and "indicator loop" magnetic anomaly technology during WWI. By 1918 it was an effecient system defending the RN Grand Fleet's base at Scapa Flow. The German submarine UB-116 was detected by hydrophones on 28 October 1918 attempting to enter the base. Two hours later UB-116 was detected by a magnetic anomaly system defending the base. Unfortunately for UB-116 that system was interlaced with a remotely controlled minefield which was exploded by electical impulse from on-shore RN personnel - thereby destroying UB-116. 

By 1941 the RN had deployed magnetic anomaly and hydrophone systems to defend strategic harbours all over the British Empire (see this long list) including several Australian harbours. The RN also shared all this technology with the US Navy to defend many US harbours (also on list) during WWII. The US then developed the much more extensive Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) since against the Soviet Navy from around 1950. The UK and presumably Empire/Commonwealth countries benefitted from SOSUS networks. 

China with land wars and/or Mao to cope with for decades was a latecomer - likely having magnetic anomally and SOSUS networks since the 1990s. China had "Passive bottom arrays protect harbor entrances, extending out to sea about 20-30 nm" by 1997. 

Now Chinese SeaWeb (Chinese sensors of all types on all platforms orientated to sea targets). Chinese SeaWeb is quicker reacting due to increased computer processing power and data storage capacity. China's NSA provides the essential network backbone. Such capacity makes Chinese SeaWeb better able to store and recognise the sonic (and other signatures) of foreign submarines. For example it is important to be able to distinguish between similar submarines such as Chinese, Vietnamese and Russian versions of the Kilo SSK. Once a Western (including Japanese) submarine is detected China is moving toward the ability to positively identify the nationality of a submarine or even identify an individual sub by its sonar signature or other signatures (including the submarine motion habits-routines of particular Captains).

The US-Western SEAWEB is assumed to be more advanced.

Non-acoustic (active or passive sonar) sensors may include:

-  magnetic anomaly
-  water pressure
-  non-natural water anomaly
-  IR light
-  visible light (underwater CCTV)
-  lasers-LIDAR
-  light emitting diodes (LED) bouncing light off the submarine hull
-  anti-submarine nets or lines
-  water temperature (from engine and hull heat)
-  unnatural chemical levels from AIP (sniffers) 
-  unnatural radiation
-  electronic emissions including sigint.


In a wartime situation China's SeaWeb would be transformed from just an intelligence tool to being the trigger for various types of anti-submarine weapons. 

Around 30 seconds after detection a submarine could be detroyed by mines that are intergrated with these seafloor arrays including mines that float upward from the seafloor and/or mines that are rocket powered

Around 2 minutes after detection a torpedo carried by missile might destroy the submarine. The weapon to destroy the detected submarine could be an Anti-Submarine Rocket (ASROC). ASROCs have existed for decades. They can carry Common Very Light Weight Torpedo (CVLWT) which may weigh less than 100kg. Multiple CVLWT could be launched with the onboard "intelligence" to strike particularly vulnerable parts of the sub.

China has been steadily developing Anti-Submarine missiles with: 

-  a rocket engine, such as the CY-1 (supersonic flight out to 20km) 
-  or jet engines. The CY-2 uses a C-802 missile for subsonic flight out to 55 km. 

At the upper end of the anti-submarine spectrum China's DF-21D "carrier killer" ballistic missiles could deploy one or more light weight torpedos or depth bombs with conventional or nuclear warheads against high value submarine targets.   


As Bryan Clark indicated in May 2015 a logical response to this greater sensitivity and lethality of anti-submarines sensors is increased use of Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs). This saves manned submarines from harm or capture. UUVs can be launched and serviced by manned submarines. The relatively small size of UUVs makes them harder for undersea sensors to detect. Manned submarines can also install recharging and data download depots on the seafloor (one depot is called OceanWorks "sub-sea dock").

Types of UUVs

UUVs with sufficient range for a 100 km (round trip) reconnaisance mission, towards an opponents coast, might be the size and weight of a Mark 48 heavyweight torpedo. Hence launchable from current 533mm torpedo tubes. Such ranges are possible because UUVs do not have to move quickly (against higher water resistance) to perform a mission. Their propulsion would ideally be different from a Mark 48's

Shorter range missions could be performed by lightweight torpedo sized UUVs - including the Bluefin range of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs). These can also be launched in 533mm torpedo tube fitting containers. 

Near static missions can be performed by Wave Gliders and static pods have been used by superpowers since Operation Ivy Bells.

It does not necessarily follow that UUVs larger than heavyweight torpedos are necessary. These "large diameter" or "large displacement" LDUUVs may the latest "must have" according to some American corporations but electronics are increasing in capabilities while shrinking into smaller packages. 

There are always tradeoffs between weapon system choices. Rather than Bryan Clark's suggestion that a very large LDUUV launches several CVLWTs a very long range (even if slow moving) heavyweight torpedo would also make sense. Such a torpedo could pass over the undersea sensor danger zone and hit ships/subs in harbour or leaving harbour. 


June 20, 2015

Defence distances itself from Tony Abbott's submarine claims

 Australia's Prime Minister should not be a salesmen for Japanese subs.

Tom Richardson for INDaily ADELAIDE Independent News has written an excellent article which indicates that Prime Minister Abbott's claims favouring Japan's Soryu are not supported by the Australian Defence Department http://indaily.com.au/news/2015/05/25/defence-hoses-down-pms-soryu-sub-hype/

"Defence hoses down PM’s Soryu sub hype


ADELAIDE | The federal Defence Department has refused to back Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s assertion that the Japanese Soryu submarine is “the best in the world”.

The PM made the claim in [23 February 2015], telling parliament that discussions over the multi-billion dollar Future Submarines contract “have been more detailed with the Japanese, because the Japanese make the best large conventional submarine in the world”[!]

But written answers from Defence to questions put on notice by Senator Nick Xenophon from an Estimates hearing are considerably less effusive.

Asked whether authorities have briefed the Prime Minister that the Soryu is the best in its class, the department replies: “Defence has provided a range of advice to Government on the future submarine program, and through engagement with Japan, Defence has established that Japan has been successful in the design and build of the Soryu class, which is of a size similar to that required by Australia.”
Xenophon told InDaily: “The political rhetoric doesn’t match the technical realities.”

In similarly measured terms, Defence responds to a question about whether it has technical information to support the PM’s claim: “Defence has technical information that helps us to understand aspects of the Soryu design that relate to our submarine capability needs.”

However, it continues, “publicly available information does not provide a true indication of the capabilities of the Soryu design”.

“Submarine capability is judged against a number of attributes, including range, endurance, payload, stealth and sensor performance. The Soryu and Collins class differ in various ways when each of these attributes is considered. There are particular requirements for the Future Submarine that the Soryu class has not been designed to meet. Incorporation of the preferred combat and weapon systems for the Future Submarine would also entail design changes.”

Defence revealed senior navy submarine command-qualified officers have “been to sea in a Soryu class submarine” early this year as part of their research.

“My mail in terms of people that I’ve spoken to, the inside running is with the Japanese,” Xenophon said.

“They’re the favourites to win this, the process seems to be stacked towards [Japan] and that is a real concern because they have never built a sub overseas let alone shared their technology, unlike the French or the Germans,” he told ABC Radio.

He also highlighted fears an overseas design would not yield local jobs in manufacturing, highlighting another response to a Question on Notice, with Defence Minister Kevin Andrews confirming the much-hyped 500 new jobs would instead be in “design assurance, combat system integration, and land-based testing of submarine systems”. WHOLE ARTICLE


June 17, 2015

Guam nuclear submarine and air base

Guam (nuclear submarine) naval base is at Apra Harbor, west central Guam. Andersen Air Force Base is on the northeast tip of Guam.

This article is about the nuclear submarine and aerial bomber facilities in Guam. These benefit Australia and have relationships with at least two Australian bases.

Australian nuclear free activists were opposed to French underground testing from 1974 to 1996 at Moruroa Atoll at the extreme range of 6,800 km from Australia. Little did they know that around three US submarines armed with a total of 48 (or more) nuclear missiles were based between 1963 and 1981 only 2,700 km from Australia :-)

(USS Proteus, 3 SSBNs and an SSN at Guam naval base, Apra Harbor (Courtesy the late McDowell, Donald Bratton, CPO)

So at the height of the Cold War, from 1963 to 1981 usually three SSBNs within Submarine Squadron 15 permanently operated out of Guam – an island only 2,700 km north of Australia. Those SSBNs were the early ones including some of the George Washington class, armed with nuclear tipped Polaris SLBMs. These were serviced by submarine tender USS Proteus

Guam enjoys the political permanency of being a US possession in the ideal strategic position of the central west Pacific. Guam is within quick nuclear propelled sub “steaming” distance of (and bombing distance from) Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia.

Given the relatively limited 4,600 km range of Polaris missiles forward basing some SSBNs made sense at the time. Guam based SSBNs, after around 2 days at sea, were in a comfortable position to hit such major targets as China, the eastern-central Soviet Union (including land based ICBM silos)  and the Soviet naval base at Cam Ranh Bay (Vietnam).

The thaw in the Cold War, increasing political sensitivity of forward nuclear bases and especially the longer range of Poseidon then eventually Trident II SLBMs (11,000 km range) meant that basing at US mainland ports or Hawaii became adequate. Hence Submarine Squadron 15 was disestablished in 1981.

Submarine Squadron 15 was reactivated in 2001 (to the present), again at Guam, this time operating Los Angeles Class SSNs.

Today, the squadron consists of the Los Angeles class USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723), USS Chicago (SSN-721), USS Key West (SSN-722). In the last few weeks USS Topeka (SSN-754) has joined the suadron.. The submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS-40) is also homeported at Guam. The squadron also supports every deploying SSN in the Pacific Fleet Area of Operations, as well as SSGNs USS Ohio (SSGN-726) and USS Michigan (SSGN 727). Note that Australia’s submarine base at Rockingham, Western Australia also hosts some of the same US SSNs and SSGNs on a much more temporary basis. Eventual replacement of Guam Squadron 15’s aging Los Angeles subs with newer Virginia SSNs is likely.

USS Frank Cable (AS-40) and USS Salt Lake City (Los Angeles class SSN 716) Apra Harbor,  Guam.

US SSNs have many possible roles including: shadowing Chinese and Russian SSNs, SSBNs and major surface ships; intelligence collection; contributing to the SEAWEB sensor network; escorting US strike carrier and amphibious warfare groups; and interacting with Japanese and Australian subs and surface ships.

HA-51 is a former Japanese mini-submarine on display on Guam. In July 1944 it ran aground off Guam's southeastern coast. It was crewed by two Japanse soldiers who held off American troops for three days before surrendering. It is a Type C Kō-hyōteki-class submarine. Japanese forces occupied Guam from December 8, 1941 until Guam’s recapture by US forces on July 21, 1944.

Submarine Tenders

From 1964 to 1971 the USS Proteus serviced submarines at Guam. From around 1997 (to this day)  USS Frank Cable has that job. Submarine tenders these days are very large with USS Frank Cable displacing up to 23,000 tons. Submarine tenders are very lightly armed with USS Frank Cable only having 25mm and 40mm anti-aircraft guns – more likely used to deter and destroy suicide boats. Submarine tenders therefore require protection, in any time of conflict by warships (such as frigates) and airpower (if in port). Guam hosts the necessary protective US Air Force jets and warships including the SSNs.

Tenders and/or more extensive port facilities are essential to support SSNs between missions. This is because SSNs carry very limited stocks of food, torpedoes, small missiles, other supplies, limited maintenance equipment and few repair specialists. Tenders can voyage to a sub in need (for at sea replenishment) or provide these services in port. In the US Navy tenders are equipped with workshops and can accommodate Gold/Blue relief crews. Tenders can also replenish naval surface ships. 

Andersen Darwin and Tindal Air Force Bases

A B-2 stealth bomber and 2 F-15s fly over Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

Andersen Air Force Base (AFB) on Guam has been a heavy bomber base since 1944. From B-29s bombing Japan (World War Two) the bombers grew to B-52s bombing Cambodia, Laos and of course Vietnam (Vietnam War). Since the end of that war Andersen has continued to host B-52s, defensive jetfighters and occasional deployments of B-1B and B-2 (stealth) bombers. Andersen also hosts KC-135 refueling aircraft which extends the range of bombers sufficiently to bomb the Asian mainland (only when necessary).

To underline the strategic importance of Andersen AFB – it is still occasionally circled by Russian Bear spy planes that are annoyingly refueled by Russian IL-78 aircraft based at Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay.

Australia’s Tindal Air Force Base at Katherine, Northern Territory, also occasionally hosts US B-52, B-1, B-2 bombers and KC-135s on scheduled or emergency stops on a semi-secret basis. RAAF Darwin Air Base also hosted US bombers until recently - with hosting now at Tindal due to noise and perhaps secrecy concerns. These bombers and refuelers are more frequently based at Guam, Okinawa, Diego Garcia, Hawaii, Middle East bases and the US mainland.

A B-2 stealth bomber lands at RAAF Darwin, Australia, foExercise Green Lightning. (Photo Courtesy, Air Power Australia).

Another link between Andersen-Guam and Tindal is bombing range viability. Bombers from Andersen have historically used the very small, uninhabited, island of Farallon de Medinilla just north of Guam as a practice target. But political, environmental sensitivities, very small size and other limitations means that US heavy bombers no longer bomb Farallon de Medinilla. Instead bombers from Guam can use the larger, 200,000 hectare Delamere Air Weapons Range about 120 km south of the Tindal Australian Air Force Base.


So Guam is an ideal base for US submarines and bombers. Its location allows these weapons to use there nuclear propulsion and inflight refuelling to major advantage. The US bases at Guam are important to Australia’s and broader regional security. Guam can also host Australian submarines and aircraft. Australia pays for such US security through the high cost of US weapons and through hosting US visits at Australia’s submarine base at Rockingham, Western Australia and Tindal Air Force Base.


June 16, 2015

Lack of Japanese legislation could slow Soryu sale

A Soryu submarine. Soryu means "blue" or "green dragon". More Japanese legislation and public support are needed for the sale of an enlarged Soryu to Australia.

Yuki Tatsumi for The Diplomat, has written an interesting article (June 16, 2015) indicating that Japanese Prime Minister Abe is having difficulty pushing through crucial alliance legislation. Implicitly this legislation is necessary to justify the sale of enlarged Soryus to Japan’s emerging ally Australia.

It appears that pushing the legislation through Japan’s Parliament (“Diet”) will not happen next month, as hoped, but maybe next year. The political hesitation is, in part, prompted by legal arguments that difficult constitutional change is necessary earlier than first thought. Also too many of the Japanese public remain hesitant about the Japanese military becoming more active as an alliance partner (regionally and further afield).

This complicates the Soryu sale because Abe has been painting the sale as an alliance cementing activity with Australia. 

This political uncertainty in Japan makes it difficult for Australian selectors to choose the Soryu, or eliminate one of the contenders, early next year after the “competitive” evaluation process is completed. On a favourable note for Abbott a Soryu decision is better made AFTER the next Australian election, which may be as late as November 2016. Choice of the Soryu is likely to be politically unpopular in Australia as it is strongly assumed to mean fewer submarine building jobs for Australians.