December 1, 2013

SEA 1000 Continued - Maybe no VLS and no LockMart

So many choices for Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) or broader term Vertical Multi-Purpose Locks (VMPL). Nice to have - adding strategic and tactical flexibility - but very heavy and expensive for a diesel-electric submarine limited to 4,500 tonnes (submerged).

The following is MHalblaub's comment of "Australian SEA 1000 future submaine - an S-80 development or HDW 216?" of November 30, 2013 at

"Dear Pete,

our view coincide that SEA 1000 is a very ambitious project. Just like the F-35. Ambitious defence projects tend to be delayed and more expensive than expected. In my opinion both projects are far too ambitious.

That any submarine has to use a Lockheed Martin SUBIC combat system will not enhance the development time. The decision to use this combat system is not based on requirements. In my opinion it is only based on cronyism because nobody tried to ask if Australia could get better insight in another system.

A vertical launch system (VLS) is nice to have in case of a real big submarine like the Vertical Multi-Purpose Lock (VMPL) on planed Type 216. You said many missiles could be fired at once from one submarine. My argument is that for one big SEA 1000 submarine at a cost of A$3 billion each Australia could buy 4 small submarines instead with capability to fire even more missiles at once.

For a "piggyback" submarine a VMPL is also unnecessary. A26 or 210mod are planned with a big “torpedo” tube for special purpose. A smaller submarine can get closer to the shore and the "piggyback" sub doesn’t have to be big.

You have the fear an "interim" sub could become a permanent fix. My fear is that without an interim solution Australia will have no operational submarine in the future. A big submarine even with support by DCNS or HDW and interference by ASC will not be ready before 2030. Navantia is troubled to get the S-80 working. A sole Australian submarine solution might be ready in 2040 (IOC). A small “Off The Shelf” (OTS) solution could be built fast in case no big changes were made to sonar system, command and control system, torpedoes …

I also doubt the claim it would be uneconomic to operate two types of submarines at once. At the moment RAN operates one very uneconomic type of submarine. Does RAN also operate just one type of surface ships because this is more economic? Do you think the F-35 will be the only fighter aircraft for RAAF?

Even with SEA 1000 RAN will operate two types at once for a while. I expect it will be a very unreliable Collins-class with incredible maintenance costs and a troubled SEA 1000 program with many delays.

What about politics? Do you think Australia could use an US built nuclear submarine for any mission without restrictions from Washington? Maybe the best solution would be two or three Virginia-class submarines and a fleet of “cheap” small submarines.

Missile systems:
The seeker system of a Popeye missile was build to hit land targets while the Harpoon was initially built against ships. Therefore I think Israel did use Popeye missiles with a 50 % bigger and better suited warhead.



Pete's Response 

Hi MHalblaub

Not only is SEA 1000's plans to develop an Australia only SSK ambitious, expensive and highly risky but Australia's planned future purchase of 100 Lockheed Martin F-35s from around 2016 would frustrate and delay any major expenditure on the SEA 1000 project.

The purchase of a Lockheed Martin submarine combat system may indeed add risk to the SEA 1000 project given Lockheed Martin has established a convincing reputation for over-time and over-budget. The extent of Lockheed Martin's political, hence market, power in the US conquers mere considerations of cost and efficiency.

A Vertical Multi-Purpose Lock (VMPL) (of course with VLS capabilities) may indeed be a heavy luxury that may not bring sufficient benefits. Tomahawks fired from 6 standard horizontal tubes could be achieved quickly.

On mini piggy back subs and diver exit I noticed "The Collins class boats are also capable of supporting special forces teams. In 2005, Collins was fitted with various modifications to support special forces, including exterior shelters for inflatable boats. [HMAS] Dechaineux was modified in 2006, and the other submarines will receive the hatches during their full cycle docking."

To avoid what I still see overly problematic options of an interim sub or two SSK designs operating simultaneously the only solution might be to buy a large existing design Off The Shelf. This could be from the most experienced exporters-indigenous build supporters which are DCNS and HDW. In comparison Navantia with its currently troubled S-80 design has comparatively little submarine building experience and no independent sub export or indigenous sub build support experience.

Unfortunately Navantia's problems in themselves might form a sufficient recipe for Navantia's selection by Australia. Our acquisition trend is frequently weighted in favour of choosing under-developed, hence problematic designs like the F-111, then the Collins and now Australia believes itself committed to 100 troubled F-35s.

A DCNS (SSK or SSK transition to SSN) will be considered in following articles as will the Japanese Soryu Class .

Mission restrictions may well be a problem from choosing a US (SSN) or Japanese (SSK) design. But then again the political and strategic advantages of choosing a design from an Asia-Pacific ally like the US and Japan must be factored in.

Regarding Israel's recent use of possible a Harpoon land attack or Popeye missile the issue becomes even more clouded with:

"The Harpoon Block II adds GPS guidance, improved processing that helps it distinguish targets amidst near-shore “clutter,” and land attack features. Harpoon competes with Israel’s own ship-borne Gabriel 3 anti-ship missile external link; Israel’s Navy operates both types,"




Won Kim said...

why not follow south korea's example... they got the license to build HDW type 209 and now building type 214 which is leading them to design and build first indigenous 3000 ton ssk submarine in near future.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Won Kim

Certainly Australia should be looking at 214s built by Germany and also built by South Korea.

Is South Korea's 3,000 ton submarine (KSS III? or D-3000?) under early or more advanced development? When might it be launched? See my earlier post