January 20, 2014

Australia's Future Submarine Selection - Navantia in trouble.

From UK Daily Mail article "Too heavy: The [S-80 Isaac Peral Class], a new, Spanish-designed submarine is more than 70 tons too heavy, and officials fear if it goes out to sea, it will not be able to surface. Officials are pictured next to the engine of the vessel last November [2012]" also see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navantia#Controversies


It is not taken as given that Australia's new government, which came into being in September 2013, will totally agree with submarine decisions and defence white papers released by the previous government (2008-2013). Previous attitudes and statements regarding HDW, DCNS and Navantia might not be the same. Its probably true to say the following documents illustrate the thinking of the previous government - unless reconfirmed as policy by the new government:

Defence Capability Plan 2009: Sea Project SEA 1000  http://www.defence.gov.au/dmo/id/dcp/html/sea/Sea1000.html [now looking a bit out of date]

Prime Minister, Minister for Defence, Minister for Defence Materiel – Joint Media Release – Next stage of future submarine project announced 3 May 2012 
 http://www.minister.defence.gov.au/2012/05/03/prime-minister-minister-for-defence-minister-for-defence-materiel-joint-media-release-next-stage-of-future-submarine-project-announced/ ["...approved the release of Requests for Information to three overseas submarine designers (DCNS, HDW and Navantia),..."]

Prime Minister, Minister for Defence and Minister for Defence Materiel – Joint Media Release – 2013 Defence White Paper: The Future Submarine Program 3 May 2013 http://www.minister.defence.gov.au/2013/05/03/prime-minister-minister-for-defence-and-minister-for-defence-materiel-joint-media-release-2013-defence-white-paper-the-future-submarine-program-2/ ["The Government has now taken the important decision to suspend further investigation of the two Future Submarine options based on military-off-the-shelf designs in favour of focusing resources on progressing an ‘evolved Collins’ and new design options that are likely to best meet Australia’s future strategic and capability requirementsThe Government has also taken the important decision to use the United States AN/BYG-1 combat system [see http://www.defence.gov.au/dmo/msd/sea1439/index.cfm which indicates integration with US weapons] as the reference system for future design work. "]

Australia's subject to change 2013 Defence White Paper indicates a mixture of companies is more likely than with the pre 2013 options of HDW, DCNS and Navantia off-the-shelf. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Electric Boat and Thales are all likely to become/are involved. Outside of the US and Europe - the builders of Korea's projected KSS-III (using much HDW technology) and Japan's current Soryu Class propulsion system (with the Kockums Stirling AIP) might also be outside contenders. 

SEA 1000's official parameters suggest that the following are prime considerations: Australian Federal Government money for South Australia for manufacturing industry development; business; union; jobs; and electoral interests . SEA 1000's expected  in-service deadline is now apparently around 2035.


The attitude to Navantia may be different given Navantia's 2013-2014 problems with the S-80 Isaac Peral Class. The following article from the UK Daily Mail, June 6, 2013, is rather extreme in tone but still troubling: Spain's £1.75billion submarine programme is torpedoed after realising near-complete vessel is 70 tonnes too heavy because engineer put decimal point in the wrong place http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2336953/Spains-1-75bn-submarine-programme-torpedoed-realising-near-complete-vessel-70-tonnes-heavy.html : "A £1.75billion Spanish submarine project has run aground after officials realised that the vessel is more than 70 tonnes too heavy - because an engineer put a decimal point in the wrong place...A former Spanish official has described the mistake, which has led to fears that the submarine might not resurface if sent to sea, as 'fatal'....The [S-80 lead vessel] Isaac Peral, the first in a new class of diesel electric submarines, was almost complete when the problem was noticed....Spain will now pay US Navy contractor Electric Boat £9million over three years to assess the issue and carry out the work required to correct it, according to the Spanish Defence Ministry."

Navantia's solid performance in being the major contractor for Australia's under construction Hobart Class Destroyers and Canberra Class LHDs may be allowing Navantia strong influence over Australia SEA 1000 selection process. Navantia may be considered a safe vender but its lack of experience in completing a submarine itself of ever exporting a submarine itself may be significant problems. 

Navantia was involved with DCNS in building Agostas and Scorpenes some years ago but Navantia did not build them by itself. http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/scorpene/

HDW and DCNS are the firms with the greatest export experience and deepest knowledge base in conventional subs. HDW and DCNS should therefore be the front-runners in Australia S-80 future submarine selection. Inter-operability with the US is important hence its is highly desirable that these firms would be permitted by the US to incorporate the US SSN equivalent combat system and weapons fit.

The Navantia S-80 apparently incorporates the US combat system-weapons fit and is working with US company Electric Boat - which are strengths. Australia also worked or works with Electric Boat in building-maintaining the Collins. However the S-80 falls down in not being completed and not yet exported. As indicated above the S-80 has been significantly delayed due to basic design faults.  The S-80 is reportedly 70 tonnes overweight - hence suffering major balance problems - leading to a delayed in-service of 2017 - and cost overruns http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navantia#Controversies.

The 70 tonne-balance error may be an outcome of inexperience or undue haste in developing and building the S-80.

Navantia's involvement with DCNS in submarine building apparently ended in 2010. Hence pre-2010 perceptions in Australia's Defence Department about Navantia for SEA 1000 appear not as valid in 2014.

Navantia apparently has never completed a submarine by itself or exported a sub by itself. As things stand this may make Navantia a higher risk sub maker than Kockums was in the 1980s for the Collins Class sub(?)

Note that in the 1980s Kockums was chosen over the more proven HDW at the last minute - and the rest is history. Now we have never completed a sub by itself Navantia in SEA 1000 contention.

If Navantia develops a demonstrably efficient S-80 and gets some export orders for subs experience before 2025 then it might be less high risk and less expensive a choice.


As this post was carried over from an old link it contains no visitor Comments facility.

However by other means MHalblaub commented January 20, 2014:
The Spanish S-80 and the Japanese submarines have something in common. The AIP of both submarine types is a licensed build by DCNS or Kockums. 

I doubt that Kawasaki acquired a license to retail AIPs and France will never sell the AIP to Australia without a submarine. 

There are just two western companies which have a good record for licensed building of submarines: DCNS and HDW. Kockums failed last time.
Pete's reply January 21, 2014:

Hi  MHalblaub 

The S-80's AIP is neither DCNS MESMA nor Kockums Stirling but a bioethanol-processor (provided by Hynergreen from Abengoa) - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S-80-class_submarine#Propulsion . Meanwhile the Soryu does indeed utilise Kockums Stirling.

I don't know if Kawasaki could export its AIP as its never exported a sub or parts to my knowledge. Agree that France DCNS is unlikely to export its MESMA alone.

I agree that DCNS and HDW have the best record for licensed building.

Navantia might need two decades or more of providing licence building and exporting different sizes of subs to catch up with DCNS and HDW. 

Its unknown whether Navantia joint ventures with Electric Boat would improve Navantia's performance. see references to Electric Boat's assistance here.