March 24, 2014

Evolved Collins Sub - Most Likely SEA 1000 Option

Would an evolved Collins, or any type of future SSK have any chance of chasing down Chinese SSNs, like the Type 093 Shang Class submarine above?

On the long term issue of Australia's future submarine SEA 1000 project John Kerin of the The Australian Financial Review, March 6, 2014 reported

"Evolved Collins favourite but timing unclear"

"An evolved Collins-class has emerged as the favoured option for Australia’s next generation of submarines amid signs the much maligned existing boats will remain in service beyond 2030.
The former Labor government’s defence white paper pared back the options to an updated Collins or a new design in its 2013 version, but all options are on the table for the Abbott government’s new white paper to be completed within 12 months.
Few sources close to defence believe it will opt for a new design given the risk of having an orphan boat class. Treasurer Joe Hockey is said to be uneasy with the mooted pricetag of $36 billion.
Defence Minister David Johnston has also cast doubt on whether Australia will double its fleet to 12, saying the number first mooted in the former prime minister’s 2009 white paper has never been justified.
The original Collins sub was a modified Swedish Kockums design and Australia would be unlikely to go without the expertise of one big European diesel submarine builder as well as rely heavily on the US Navy and its systems technology expertise.
One cause for optimism has been the amount of remediation work that has been undertaken on the Collins fleet since the release of the 2012 John Coles report by former defence minister Stephen Smith, which found the fleet was floundering but blamed most of the problems on poor maintenance practices and co-ordination between defence, the navy and submarine maintainer ASC.
Ironically, one reason behind the life extension program is that the hulls of the boats have spent so much time out of the water.
On a visit to the Techport precinct in South Australia, Senator Johnston was happy to report that the availability of the Collins-class boats was as good as it has been for a decade.
Johnston seems to have had a change of heart. When the former Labor government released its 2013 white paper, he said he wouldn’t “want to go back near Collins if it was the last thing on earth we had to do’’.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, on the other hand, has always been more ­circumspect, saying while the Collins had its moments, it was a pretty effective piece of kit. The Australian Financial Reviewunderstands that means as many as four of the six boats would be kept in the water.
Some defence sources question the cost of keeping the boats in the water given they are ageing, even as other navies in the region update their fleets, often with cheaper off-the-shelf boats.
“There was talk before the election of the cost of keeping the Collins in the water approaching $1 billion a year and it is only going to get more expensive as they get older,’’ one defence source told the Financial Review.
“So it’s a question of how much the government is prepared to pay to keep them going,’’ the source added.


Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Andrew Davies said there was “still scope for a change of direction but the evolved Collins definitely has its nose in front at the moment’.
“The availability of the existing six Collins-class boats is actually ahead of the target and it appears the life extension program will see them through to at least 2030,’’ Dr Davies says.
The regional arms race includes not only the big players such as China and Japan, but also Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam.
Labor’s 2013 defence white paper retained its earlier target from the more ambitious 2009 document, to double the size of the fleet from six to 12, with the boat being larger than the Collins – 4000 tonnes as opposed to 3000 tonnes – and having greater range and endurance. The Coalition, though less enthusiastic, has eventually come around to the political reality that the new boats will be assembled in Adelaide at the government-owned ASC, given Australia has an indigenous submarine capability, and marginal seats in Adelaide would be at stake otherwise.
As with big ship projects, the work is likely to be spread across other shipyards around Australia.
A debate has raged about the appropriate approach to buying new submarines since the Australian Strategic Policy Institute report in 2009, which estimated it would cost $36 billion to design and build submarines in Australia compared with a $9 billion tag for buying smaller conventional submarines from Europe.
But the purchase of small conventional submarines was suspended after it was considered they simply were not suited to the seas Australian submarines operate in, or the roles which they undertake, which include eavesdropping on long-range patrols on large countries in north-east Asia.
An assessment by the Australian Industry Group has estimated the future submarine program could employ up to 5000 workers and 1000 Australian businesses, many of them small and medium enterprises.
However, the best signal about the Abbott government’s future intentions will be its upcoming commission of audit and just how much political skin and money it is prepared to invest in the risky project." ENDS


Anonymous said...

I missed the caption beneath the Chinese sub. "Would an evolved Collins, or any type of future SSK have any chance of chasing down Chinese SSNs".

We have a saying here in Germany: Many hounds soon catch the hare.
Just 12 big hounds might be to few. 24 smaller hounds will have a far better chance. Even the smallest hound can catch a fast and noisy hare.

The next thing is you also have to feed the big hounds. According to my knowledge Australia's current hounds eat very much. Breeding of big hounds is also a problem. Australia might still breeding while the game is already on.


Pete said...

Hi MHalblaub

What I really meant by the caption is that SSKs are too slow to catch up with SSNs in the open ocean (blue water).

Australia would need to rely on US SSNs to catch up with Chinese SSNs. If Australia had 12 SSKs only 4 to 6 would be operational. At the moment we can perhaps only crew 3 Collins.

The implication is that on efficiency grounds Australia would be best placed to buy SSNs. But US SSNs (Los Angeles and Virgina Class) need crews that are too large (about 135 crew) for Australia's capacity. Domestic politics are also against SSNs because Australia is unable to build SSNs locally.

Sometimes I feel we should use drones, manned aircraft and sea denial missiles - like - instead of subs!


Anonymous said...

Dear Pete,

I just can't see the need for Australia to catch up any SSNs. RAAN didn't practice it in the past and doesn't practice it today. For what reason Australia needs to do this in the future? Are the US such an unreliable partner?

The effectiveness of a submarine force is your enemy has always to operate as if a submarine is nearby. An incoming missile won't change surface operations much except for just the few moments the missile is in the air.


Pete said...

Hi MHalblaub

Australia's strategic environment is changing. Previously US SSNs were matched against only Russian SSNs. But now India and China are developing SSN forces.

Australia's needs change - especially as it will take at least 15 years to build our new submarines and then operate them for 30 years. We cannot always rely on the US as it has worldwide commitments and declining relative dominance.

We need subs that can keep up with are new Canberra and Hobart class ships in the open ocean. Only SSNs can do that.

Other middle powers have considered SSNs. Canada considered them but decided against them in the 1980s-90s. Brazil is on the way to building at least one.

Yes a submarine has big defensive advantages of creating doubt in opponents. For both deterrence in peacetime and during war.



Anonymous said...

Dear Pete,

there is another problem with SSNs. They are louder than SSKs. A fast SSN can't really protect the big ships. This is hopeful thinking by US Navy. A SSN going as fast as the big ships is loud and a prey for SSKs. The US-Navy learned this many times during exercises.

Canada considered SSNs due to the ice cap and Brazil is doing it for prestige.

The SSK will wait at the choke points. To clear or control the choke points RAAN needs SSKs.

For intelligence gathering in peace time a small SSK is better suited. A SSN might be to precious for such a task.

Australia might get 6 to 8 SSNs, 12 indigenous Australian submarines or 24 European MOTS SSK. China has not only several SSN but also a fleet of about 48 SSKs.


Pete said...

Hi Matthias

From Australia's main submarine base at Fremantle Collins need to transit very quickly over 1,000s of kms to operational areas. Most are north or northwest of Australia. Transiting on battery is very slow in a crisis compared to the 30+ knots of an SSN.

Difficult to gauge the quietness of different US, UK, French SSNs at higher speeds given the secrecy of hard data. Especially in the last 10 years.

Leaving aside the dream of using 4 smaller crew SSNs (ie French Barracuda) only 6 large SSKs might be affordable in peacetime. 12 large SSKs are probably a luxury meaning the 6 would need to be stored in "mothballs" for medium-high level wartime use.

Australia must be able to handle choke-points for weeks and also handle fast (10+ knots?) open ocean speeds for weeks.

The country with the most similar submarine requirements to Australia is the US in the Pacific - but US SSNs are probably too big and expensive (in money and crew size) for Australia to buy.

I need to write a long article on based on these discussion sometime.