October 4, 2014

Soryu Submarine - Many Unknowns and Modifications Needed

A Soryu submarine SS-502 Unryu "Cloud Dragon" of the 1st Submarine Flotilla (?) in the port of Kure.
Graeme Dunk, writing on the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI's) blog The Strategist has written a thought provoking article of October 2, 2014,  below. Graeme argues that there are many unknowns in any purchase of Japan's Soryu as Australia's future submarine. Also many modifications would be needed for the Soryu to meet Australian requirements. The string for Graeme Dunk's article is http://www.aspistrategist.org.au/governments-and-balance-sheets-submarines-and-industry-in-australia/ :

"Governments and balance sheets—submarines and industry in Australia

2Oct 2014
It now seems a real possibility that the replacement for the Collins-class submarines might come from Japan, rather than being built in Australia as previously promised by the government. The principal argument for that proposal is the supposed cost for the capability acquired—with a figure of $25 billion being considered better value for money than the somewhat woolly $50–80 billion for the local alternative. In the Australian Financial Review on 8 September (‘Japanese subs on the way’), Prime Minister Abbott is quoted as saying that ‘The most important thing is to get the best and most capable submarines at a reasonable price for the Australian taxpayer’.
While a simple comparison of potential costs is sobering (and obviously intended to be so) the arguments presented to date have been somewhat simplistic and don’t take into account the full range of factors upon which such a decision should be based. They also show a spectacularly naïve view on what comprises capability.
In his article ‘Option J for FSM—a Japanese solution?’ Peter Briggs undertakes a comparison of the Japanese Soryu-class with the Collins-class submarine and finds that on an operational basis the Soryu doesn’t stack up as well as claimed.
What we don’t know is what’s included in the figure of $25 billion. Is it the acquisition cost only? Does it include any through-life support; and if so to what level, where? Does it include modifications to existing facilities that will be required for maintenance done in Australia, and for re-training Australia’s submariners? Does it include facilities costs in Japan to cater for a submarine that won’t be the Soryu-class—even though it might look like one from the outside? Does it include full access to the Soryu-class design and all associated intellectual property? What level of technology transfer will be provided? If it does not include all IP, what will be included and how are the risks of handling a new design to be mitigated? All of those issues have the potential vastly to inflate the stated $25 billion cost, create schedule delays, and add to the overall sovereign risk.
A similar series of questions might be aimed at the local option—although it could be reasonably assumed that the ‘$50 to $80 billion’ cost includes every cost that could conceivably be associated with a locally-built submarine. Until we get a true comparison we can’t make a sensible judgment.
What’s also clear is that the ‘Australian-Soryu’ will have a different combat system, different sonar and different weapons to the off-the-shelf version operated by the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force. Will it also have a different propulsion system and battery to overcome the range and indiscretion-rate limitations of the Soryu? The result will be an ‘evolved-Soryu’, developed in Japan with Japanese designers and workers, rather than an ‘evolved-Collins’ developed in Australia with Australian designers and Australian workers. All the design effort to date on the evolved-Collinsand the new submarine design options will be wasted. We’ll have to—or have to pay the Japanese to—start again on the evolved-Soryu option. We’re also likely to have to pay to have the Japanese shipyards to incorporate that new design into their build program. That doesn’t seem a sensible way in which to approach the much-discussed submarine capability gap.
We seem to be heading into a strategically important decision on the basis of a short-term ‘sugar kick’ to the balance sheet, rather than sound strategic considerations. What’s required at this point is some transparency from the government—with regard to the detail of the potential purchase from Japan, and with respect to the assessment and application of strategic and sovereign risks. The pending decision is too important to be made on a whim.
Graeme Dunk is manager of Australian Business Defence Industry, a national defence industry association. Image courtesy of Flickr user mcgovernville."


Anonymous said...

Seems to me that the Australians cannot decide whether they want a replacement for the Collins at all.

Pete said...

You are right Anonymous.

Australia's indecision on whether to home-build a Collins 2, buy the Soryu, buy Virginia's or buy European following a tender - means that no decision has been made for the last 6 years.

Much of it also depends on other projects like the AWDs running overtime and overbudget. Votes and marginal electorates in South Australia are other complications.



Joakim Wohlfeil said...

Dear Pete

This is totally out of the Indian ocean context but might interest anyone who is interested in submarines and naval politics.

This takes place just close to our house on a nearby Island, regrettably our own boat is on land for the Winter since just a few days, would have liked to pass by the area right and been ablr to do some direct reporting. But according to other people at least one Visby-Corvette joined in today, boosting the littoral underwater capacity (normally the Baltic archipelagos with it´s complicated bottom structure and even more complicated water termics give all advantages to a submarine vs surface ships).
The Swedish navy never comments where their sub´s are but it would not be a major tactical guess at least one is inside the skerries, and one would probably lock the “back door” in the open sea outside.

According to non confirmed source the operation started after military electronic surveillance picked up, and was able to position encrypted signals between a position close to the ongoing operation, and Kaliningrad.
Later a physical observations of a “man made object” was reported at Kanholmsfjärden (http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanholmsfj%C3%A4rden) in the mid-arcipelago (The Stockholm archipelago consist of ca 30 000 island and skerries and is geographically divided in inner, mid and outer archipelago)

Also Russian surface ship appeared as soon as the naval operation started, and has been positioned outside the Stockholm archipelago, just outside Sweden’s territorial since.

However, it´s relevant to mention that the Swedish navy, has not commented on neither what has been observed, not how, and not given any speculations on nationality. The only official commented is that “they perform a surveillance operation investigating the cause of reliable observations”. They have also answered press questions about the Russian ship outside the territorial water saying “the navy is aware about this” .

There are international sources right now reporting about a missing Russian submarine, however the navy refuses any comments on this. It goes without saying that if Russia would be proven as a source of the underwater activity Europe would face a diplomatical crisis of a since long time unprecedented dimension.




Pete said...

Hi Joakim Wohlfeil

Thanks for your post.

I wonder if an inexperienced Russian submarine Captain/navigators/sub drivers were ordered to quickly monitor the Swedish naval exercise. Such a hasty order may have led to submarine's accident.

The chances of a Russian sub hitting the many islands and skerries-rocks of the Kanholmsfjärden must be quite high. If the Russian Captain sent an SOS in clear language (with no encryption) on emergency channels I wonder whether he was hoping to be saved by Western rescue forces as well as Russian?



nkp said...

buy Virginia??? is US offering it?? if yes then how come australia is ignoring it

Pete said...

Hi nkp

The following report is correct:

"A front page article in the Australian Financial Review on February 22 [2012] reported that the US ambassador in Canberra, Jeffrey Bleich, has floated the possibility of Washington selling or leasing nuclear submarines [specifically the Virginia class] to Australia—a first for any country." at http://web.archive.org/web/20120328061405/http://www.wsws.org/articles/2012/feb2012/asub-f29.shtml

Also see my http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/a-new-australian-submarine-with-aip.html