October 31, 2014

France's DCNS announces the SMX OCEAN large conventional submarine

The SMX OCEAN concept is fitted with an impressive load of up to 34 weapons for action in the four domains: anti-air, anti-surface, anti-submarine & action against land targets.
DCNS concept submarine, the SMX OCEAN, is fitted with an impressive load of up to 34 weapons for action in the four domains: anti-air, anti-surface, anti-submarine & action against land targets.

PETE'S COMMENTS (revisions on Lithium-ion batteries and range)

DCNS's campaign launch for the SMX Ocean (more recently called "conventional Barracuda") coincides with Australia's long heralded desire to buy 6 to 12 large SSKs under project SEA 1000. Australia has not put forward a tender process making it difficult for the main European contenders (France and German) to know what Australia precisely wants. Australia's semi-secret negotiations with Japan (which builds the Soryu submarine) are putting all outside the loop on edge. 

The way DCNS explained the SMX at EURONAVAL 2014 as a submarine with a long rapid transit capability, long endurance and large warload, appears to be closely tailored to Australia's needs. The DCNS claim that the SMX is just a conventional (SSK) version of the not yet completed Barracuda SSN is an oversimplification.

DCNS has been unwilling to publically put forward any unit or program price for Australia. Perhaps DCNS will propose a program price to any Australian delegation at the Euronaval 2014 which ends on October 31, 2014?

Although DCNS is marketing the SMX Ocean as being an conventional (SSK) version of the Barracuda SSN there are sufficient differences for these to be considered distinctly different submarines.

As well as the propulsion and propeller differences the Barracuda would have major differences in buoyancy dynamics. This is in terms of the many diesel fuel tanks needed for an SMX but not included in the nuclear propelled Barracuda. These diesel fuel tanks would need to be emptied during a voyage and then presumably progressively filled with seawater to maintain balance and buoyancy. The lack of a heavy reactor (with lead shielding) in the SMX would also make for major differences in center of gravity-balance compared to the Barracuda.

The SMX's reliance on large banks of Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) would also make for a fundamentally different electrical network setup and weight-balance distribution than the Barracuda. This is assuming the batteries in the Barracuda are lead acid.

The Barracuda would be mostly designed for Atlantic temperature and salinity conditions rather than any Australian SMX's Indian-Pacific Ocean only conditions. An Australian SMX would have far different air-conditioning and other tropicalisation needs to a Barracuda mainly operating in the cold North Atlantic Ocean.  

It is very unlikely Australia would adopt a French submarine combat system (sensors, data management and weapons). Australia is likely to stick with the present-evolved US combat system already used on the Collins.  

A vertical multi-purpose lock (VMPL) or VLS is not worth the weight penalties if mainly used to launch (around) 6 SLCMs. The weight tradeoff is also negative if, in addition to a VMPL-VLS, there is a horizontal diver vehicle or Large Diameter UUV pod (behind the sail) - fitted or retrofitted.

The extended development-building period for the not yet completed Barracuda may indicate uncertainty, risk and trouble for the SMX (and of course the not even started German TKMS-HDW 216). A big disadvantage of the SMX and 216 may also occur for any major repairs needed in France or Germany compared to repairs in much nearer Japan (for the Soryu).

The SMX's almost all new diesel-electric propulsion system sounds problematic to be used for the lead and perhaps only customer. There are insufficent details concerning the "second generation" AIP. The SMX's proposed "six" (high number of) diesel engines sound risky and likely to increase the chances of malfunctions. 

Returning to the LIBs - it would be much better if France itself trials the proposed LIBs under operational condition for years - making the LIBs a more mature and less risky technology if used in any Australian SMX. 

In contrast the Soryu is known to have a diesel engine arrangement Japan itself has been using for years and the Soryu Mark 2s will have used LIBs for years before Australia becomes a customer (assuming Australia does). 

The greater weight of 4,700 tons surfaced (?) for the SMX (compared to the 3,000 ton surfaced Soryu and 4,000 ton surfaced (?) 216) will almost definitly make the SMX much more expensive. The SMX would likely become another Australia only orphan design like the 216 but unlike the existing Soryu. Australia cannot rely on other countries (like Canada or India) to buy the SMX or 216 so as to avoid the Australian orphan result.

Although the future SMX may contain enough diesel fuel for a range of 18,000 nautical miles this may be more than Australia wants or needs and not worth the cost in weight or likely price. This is noting that the current Collins class has a range of 11,500 nautical miles. Admittedly because  Australia has not issued tender documents Australia's true range preferences are mysterious. 

It appears overall that DCNS has developed the SMX sales campaign rapidly to head-off any final Australian decision in favour of Japan's Soryu or, less likely, the 216. The Pacific regional alliance benefits of Australia selecting a Japanese submarine are greater than any alliance benefits concerning France or Germany which are basically North Atlantic powers. 


"[For EURONAVAL 2014] Hervé Guillou, DCNS CEO, explained that SMX Ocean is basically the Barracuda submarine with conventional instead of nuclear propulsion. He said such a vessel could be of interest for Australia's future submarine requirement as it is a large submarine with a very long range of 18,000 nautical miles (33,336km) at 10 knots and has an autonomy of 90 days.

SMX Ocean not only incorporates all the newest technological bricks [components?] available, even if some of them are not fully mature, but the 4,700 ton [surfaced?], 100m long submarine could also stock five different types of weapons: torpedoes, anti-surface missiles, anti-air missiles, cruise missiles and mines for a total payload of 34 weapons.

The concept behind SMX Ocean is that it could have a very mixed navigation program: it could sail at an average speed of 14 knots one week, then spend a month on patrol with no snorting period (snorting is when a submarine rises close to the sea surface in order to raise a pipe through which it draws in the air necessary to run its diesel engines that in turn recharge the batteries that power the submarine when it is fully submerged; this process is also sometimes called snorkeling) and then spend another week sailing back to its harbour at 14 knots.

Ocean would have a maximum operating depth of up to 300m and maximum diving speed of up to 20 knots." see http://aviationweek.com/blog/not-just-concept-smx-ocean-dcns  .

The SMX OCEAN may deploy and recover a new UUV DCNS is working on, as well as deploy a UAV acting as remote sensor for intelligence gathering.


Navy Recognition later reports, October 10, 2014,  http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2052 : 

Xavier Mesnet, Marketing Director (Export of Submarines) at DCNS, gives Navy Recognition an exclusive preview of the SMX OCEAN that will be unveiled at Euronaval 2014. The interview was conducted at the confidential site of Bagneux where DCNS develops its combat management systems and conduct some research and development on future projects.

Xavier Mesnet presents the SMX OCEAN heavy SSK to be unveiled at Euronaval 2014.

The focus of DCNS engineers in developing this submarine was put on endurance and high sustained speed. The 4,700 tons SSK was designed for an endurance of 14,000 nautical miles (3 months autonomy) and a continuous transit speed of 14 knots for 1 week.

To achieve such performance, the propulsion system is based on DCNS' revolutionary second generation fuel cell. It consists in the combination of a diesel reformer (therefore only diesel is used for both the diesel engine and the AIP) with air fuel cell technology.

More details on this second generation fuel cell (which has already been tested by DCNS) as well as on the SMX OCEAN will be disclosed during Euronaval 2014.

The SMX OCEAN SSK is DCNS answer to the recent emergence of several heavy SSK projects such as the Type 216 by TKMS (~4,000 tons ), the KSS III project from South Korea (~3,000 tons) or the Soryu class of Japan (~4,000 tons).

DCNS already has the know how to design heavy submarines (few shipyards in the world are capable of designing and producing SSBNs and SSNs) and DCNS insists SMX OCEAN is more than a concept: Construction could start fairly rapidly since it is based on the already under production Barracuda SSN.

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