June 15, 2015

UK Astute class SSNs - some problems

An Astute class submarine with detachable pod. In this case dry-wet cell for divers (not a minisub itself - see The Sun). Other pods could take a mini-sub, diver delivery vehicle, LDUUVs or even missiles ejected horizontally.  
---

Astute class submarine inside (Courtesy UK Daily Mail).
---

Some 2012 or still continuing(?) Astute class submarine problems, including noise (Courtesy 2012 Daily Mail report).
---

"Nicky" in comments June 15, 2015 raised the issues of Australia perhaps buying the UK newly built Astute class SSNs or non-Soryu SSKs. 

It looks like the UK Astutes have not yet become fully mature and efficient submarines. That even the 2nd in class HMS Ambush was almost a decade from being laid down (October 2003) to commissioning (March 2013) suggests program problems. See problems with the Astutes. UK production of Astutes may be as delayed and overbudget as would be achieved if a sub were built in Australia.

Australia buying any nuclear submarine is unlikely due to major domestic and regional political issues, cost and basing issues.

Problems with the UK Astutes include or included "As of March 2008 the programme was 48 per cent (or £1.2 billion) over-budget and 47 months late. Further delays due to a range of technical and programme issues brought the programme to a position of 57 months late and 53 per cent (or £1.35 billion) over-budget by November 2009, with a forecast cost of £3.9 billion for the first three Astute boats.”

"Some serious quality assurance problems have been identified in the first boats built. Due to the failure of a pipe cap, made of incorrect material although construction records indicated the correct metal had been used, Astute was forced to surface following a leak that was flooding a compartment. Other problems have been identified, including the wrong type of lead being used in a reactor instrument, and other quality issues leading to early corrosion of components." Maybe such problems happen with new subs - but it causes any customers to be cautious.

Such problems are major for the UK Navy even when operating its Astutes right near UK repair facilities. If any Australian Astutes experienced similar problems then a 20,000 nautical mile (80 day) round trip to-from UK shipyards would be crippling.

I'm also not sure whether the US would allow Astutes to be marketed in competition with US Virginias given all the US technology transfers to the UK nuclear submarine programs over the years including nuclear weapons and reactors.

No French Barracuda class SSNs have been launched. They suffer the same relatively distant repair facility issues with the added problem of needing "refuelling and complex overhauls (RCOHs)" every  10 years.

Regarding US Virginias and possibly Los Angeles class SSNs the US made Ambassadorial level soundings to Australia around February 2012.

If Australia did go the nuclear submarine route then buying US makes more sense. Buying Virginias would yield Pacific alliance benefits, constant interoperability, even more commonality in common combat systems and relatively close repair facilities at Guam (my next article), Pearl Harbour, Diego Garcia and other US Indian Ocean naval bases.

Other SSKs are being looked at under Australia competitive evaluation process (mainly the Soryu SMX Ocean (conventional Barracuda), TKMS-HDW 216, but also some information sought on HDW 209, HDW Dolphin 2 and DCNS Scorpene). Major program problems with S80 (Isaac Peral class) have eliminated it.

Pete

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Pete,

HDW 209 is a little bit outdated. Maybe Type 214?

Type 214 is produced at 3 sites all over the world: Germany, Turkey and South Korea.


I doubt that any SSN is an option for Australia despite political implications. The French and British options are not very reliable now and in the next ten years. The US submarines are far to big.

The diesel Barracuda called SMX Ocean is too far away from MOTS due to the SSN Barracuda problems. - Why was Spain not invited but France?

Regards,
MHalblaub

Peter Coates said...

Dear MHalblaub

I think it significant Australia was briefed by the TKMS management in Kiel (April 2015) on the Dolphin (perhaps the 1s not 2s) and on the four larger Type 209/1500 project TKMS is delivering to Egypt (on Egypt see last paragraph of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_209_submarine#Service )

The lack of AIP on the 209s supports my feeling Australia is not interested in AIP. Lack of AIP on the future Soryu Mark 2 seems not to have drawn Aus Government concern.

Australia might only consider SSNs if the strategic threat was much worse.

Spain seemed to be excluded because of the S-80's major weight-balance-program management problems and that Spain had not really built/sold a sub without a great deal of French help.

Years back France was probably disappointed Spain did not want to go the Scorpene route - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scorp%C3%A8ne-class_submarine#Spain . Therefore France was/is not going to help Spain sell S-80s to Australia. France also wouldn't help Spain with the much more difficult expansion of an S-80 for an Australian customer.

Regards

Pete

Nicky said...

I think the reason why the US won't sell their Nuclear submarines to their close allies is because they are afraid of US Nuclear Submarine Technology being leaked or knowledge of how they build Nuclear submarines. That's why the US is milling over the idea of selling downgraded versions of the Virginia class SSN to Australia or Canada. Which I think the only country that would give them Nukes is France since France is building the SSN Barracuda for themselves and Brazil as well.

Though I think SMX Ocean is one option for Virginia class SSN like submarine. It would give them near Nuclear submarine capability but only with an SSK with AIP. Though the Type 216 is one option as well.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky

Its true that the US wants to protect its lead in nuclear sub technology - analigious to the US also not exporting its F-22 jet.

I'd be interested in any current references indicating the US is "mulling over the idea of selling downgraded versions of the Virginia class SSN to Australia or Canada".

Yes France might be the most likely SSN exporter with the future Brazilian SSN known as SN-BR http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/brazil-new-submarine-prosub-program.html . Also possible France has helped India in the design of INS Arihant including the reactor.

While countries offering AIP equate it with nuclear AIP is far inferior (about 1 to 2 days at 25 knots). While an SSN is more like 3 months at 30 knots until food runs out.

The future or never to be launched SMX Ocean appears needlessly oversized (4,700 tonne Surfaced), hence overpriced. It will have a questionable propulsion system of SIX diesels and an as yet unmade "second generation AIP".

Regards

Pete

subdriver said...

From what one understands of the Australian requirement in term of enduranca and size, perhaps the 214 is actually the most suited. The Japanese option is certainly a good one too but not having exported military equipment ever before, the challenge of getting Japanese technology to Australia will be enormous, not least because of internally conflicting views in Japan..I dont think a non-AIP submarine is an option for Australia and its emerging maritime security requirements.

Although I have not personally been on board a Scorpene, I am told by friends who have that ergonomically, it is not like a future gen submarine - the German subs are laid out much better.

The Astute is of course a non-starter because Aust has clearly rejected the nuclear option and the production line for Astutes is meeting the current RN requirements and still has some years to go. As mentioned in some of the comments above, if Aust were to exercise the nuclear option, the Virginia would probably be the platform of choice.

I have been following this page for some time but this is my first comment. Hope to contribute more often given my three decades as a submariner.

Peter Coates said...

Hi subdriver

Yes the 214 (and Dolphin 2) probably makes the most sense on range, cost, low program risk and good boat grounds. Li-ion batteries and German fuel-cell AIP might become essential if operating anywhere near Northeast Asia. Running diesels will become too indiscrete up there. Hopefully the Australian government will come around to such views.

My next post will indicate major political setbacks for Japan's Abe in getting support for alliance changes - making it still too difficult to export subs to allies.

The lack of sales of the MESMA AIP for Scorpene is also pause for thought against buying Scorpene.

Yes buying SSNs would only become justifiable if the strategic threat to Australia sharply increased. Production line congestion jam for the Astute is another good reason not to buy. I wish the Virginias were smaller, making them cheaper, with lower crew requirements.

I hope you comment often.

Cheers

Pete

Anonymous said...

Dear Pete,

I guess that the Australian delegation was briefed on the Dolphin 2 and the Type 209 for Egypt because these are running projects at the moment. So TKMS could show how they handle real projects.

The Type 209 is also available with AIP: Type 209mod. There is also a section available to upgrade older Type 209 submarines to this standard like it was done with a Greek Type 209. South Korea may have updated a few Type 209 too.

TKMS could also have briefed the delegation on the work packages they sent to Turkey or South Korea to build the Type 214.

I still can not see a reason for an Australian SSN. Australia is not in the game to hunt down SSNB. To defend itself Australia needs many submarines and stealthy ones to control the chock points. Many and stealth excludes nuclear submarines.

Regards,
MHalblaub

Nicky said...

Hi Peter,
The only reason why the US is very paranoid about who they give their highly advance Submarine technology and Nuclear technology too. Even their very close ally, the British, they gave them Nuclear technology with the tightest and strictest controls. Look at how they got started on the SSBN and SSN program using the US Nuclear reactor. Though I think now, the US should explore the possibility of giving Australia & Canada a Virginia class SSN or used 688I but only with the same agreement the US did for the British.

See in Canada, they want an SSN that can patrol under the Arctic and what they have now, can only be used to guard the gate into the Arctic.
http://www.dodbuzz.com/2011/10/28/nuclear-submarines-for-canada/

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-may-buy-nuclear-submarines-1.1043179

Though I do think for Australia, they should have gone with the Dolphin class SSK, Type 214 SSK or even the French Scoprpene class SSK. Even if the SMX ocean comes online, that is one option for Australia. I do think for Australia, they need to a Submarine with Endurance because sometimes they do travel to America for RIMPAC and they need a submarine that can make it to Hawaii. Their current SSK, it takes them 3 weeks to get to Hawaii from Australia and I am told they sometimes make a pitstop in Guam on the way to Hawaii. Which I think they need an AIP SSK that has endurance for them to make it to Hawaii

Peter Coates said...

Hi MHalblaub

I'm guessing that as Australia has never wished to retrofit AIP into the Collins Australia didn't ask TKMS for briefings on subs with AIP. Re Dolphin - TKMS may have only briefed on the non-AIP Dolphin 1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolphin-class_submarine . Australia hasn't expressed interest in AIP for the future subs to my knowledge. For the future Australia may see the energy density of extra LIB capacity as a positive tradeoff instead of AIP. Maybe Australia doesn't want AIP even if it chose the 216.

I advocate a high-low mix of Australia having 6 x 214s and also 4 x Virginia SSNs (if strategic threats are sufficient).

Regards

Pete

Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky

The US is justified in not transfering its sensitive technology to countries who might trade it on to countries like Russia or China. Hence countries that are suspect include France (selling Mistrals to Russia) and Germany (selling diesels to China for China's SSKs).

Britain was/is the case of a long term ally with a a good security record (except for Klaus Fuchs and the Cambridge Five). Also the US realised Britain was building nuclear weapons anyway and needed the Polaris SSBN delivery system.

Any US provision of SSNs is likely to involve a great deal of money. The aging Los Angeles 688i appear to only have sea-time out to 2030 at a stretch, no longer in production, so not a good BUY for Australia. Maybe only lease.

Thanks for http://www.dodbuzz.com/2011/10/28/nuclear-submarines-for-canada/
It includes "Will [US SSNs for Canada] happen? Seems like a long shot. File this one away with the onetime suggestions that Australia could buy some American nuclear submarines, which was just as pleasant a daydream."

Also for http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-may-buy-nuclear-submarines-1.1043179 . Seems that US SSNs for Canada or Australia are always a possibility but an unlikely one.

A 2015 article http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/canadian-pre-owned-submarine-fleet-finally-ready-for-operations/article23236697/ indicates that Canada may decide not to have ANY future subs.

Regards

Pete

Nicky said...

That's why Pete, I think for Australia, an enlarged type 214 or Type 216 is the way to go for Australia.

Peter Coates said...

Yes Nicky

It was Germany, in the 1920s, who taught Japan how to build good subs.

That being the case - the 214, TKMS Dolphin 2, or small end 216 are winners.

Pete