February 20, 2020

Australian Future Submarines: How Many? and Basing?

From some comments on down from MHalblaub's comment (of February 19, 2020 at 7:05 AM)


The Australian Navy (RAN) has had continuous problems since the 1970s finding commanders and crew for more than 5 submarines.

-  Commanders must now pass the conventional submarine Dutch Navy "Perisher" Submarine
   Command Course and about 40% fail. The UK RN used to run the course but no longer since the
   UK went all nuclear subs.

-  the shortfall in numbers of Australian submarine commanders has been partly met by
   ex UK Royal Navy submarine commanders.

-  A Commander for a small Baltic 1,000 tonne sub needs to be as well qualified (hence is as hard to
   find and train) as a Commander for a 4,500 tonne (surfaced) Attack class sub. So Australia
   finding 20 commanders, for any suggestion of 20 small submarines, is an illusion.

-  due to the hardship of long missions underwater (away from family) and higher paying jobs in the
   mining industry the RAN has been unable to raise crews to rotate (on missions/on courses/on
   leave) more than 4 submarine equivalents at any one time.

So suggestions we should have 12 submarines might only be justified during a time of medium-long term increase in the threat environment to Australia. A training effort would need to be more than doubled which involves training on surface fleet ships before transitioning to submarines.

In the current threat environment I think the RAN has followed the standard practice of talking more submarines (12) than it expects to receive (8).

You will note I wrote on another website in December 2014:

"A requirement for twelve submarines was an uncosted, minimally justified, extravagance included in the 2009 White Paper (page 70, section 9.3) drawn up under the Rudd Government. There appears to be a historical trend of shooting high in Australian submarine numbers.

No navy is launching 2 conventional classes of small and large submarines because it complicates training (for crews and commanders), HQ command, control, basing slots and deployment. It also increases costs of basing (again), training (again), maintenance, repair, overhaul and spare parts.



Basing is much more complex than how far north(?) and sea depth issues. Its all about people.

To get a handle on just some of the aspects it pays to read the Australian Department of Defence Future Submarine "FSM BASING STUDY" dated
2011 https://www.defence.gov.au/FOI/Docs/Disclosures/373_1718_Documents.pdf .

I suggest particularly reading the Executive Summary (pages 5 to 6), Key Findings (pages 7 to 11) and Recommendations (page 12). There may be later published studies?

The takeaways include Australian submarines need to be:

-  supported by large bases (for maintenance and overhaul)

-  protected by several surface ships (and I'd add maritime patrol aircraft) for that vulnerable travel
   leg immediately outside bases

-  in/near large cities (ie. Perth and Sydney, maybe Brisbane (page 17)) for the many support
   industries needed and (healthcare, education, jobs, inexpensive housing for) families and
   submariner retirement options.

Darwin is a part exception, as it is a forward operating base, but the city is too small to perform deep  maintenance/overhaul or for the full range of other support industries needed.

So Australia submarines need to be permanently based in/near to cities over a million (fairly standard for other navies worldwide). Darwin or greenfield sites just can't be boosted to a million to serve a naval base.

Overall Australian submarine will always need to be large for fuel and weapons/UUV load (with 20 heavyweight shots not just 13 like the Type 212) for long transits (at 10 knots) to/from the average operating areas deep into Southeast Asia/Indian Ocean.



steve said...

I really enjoyed the YouTube videos on establishing Oberon by UNSW Canberra.


I feel I need to say it again but stretched variants of a boat aren't another class.

As you said in your last reply to my last comment the RAN will be lucky to get 8.

I do wonder if we will be able to keep 2 Astute at sea with only 6 (7-ish) hulls. We would have been safe with 8. (Astute is very much a 'prototype' as much as there can be one with a small SSN program like ours. She won't be in service long I bet one the last A-boat commissions.)

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete,

Here you can see the German submarine U32 crowded space including "beer torpedoes", now in English.


Pete said...

Thanks /Kjell

For "U32 - German Submarine Soldiers | Full Documentary" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcgDyxADsiM&feature=youtu.be

I don't understand the chant? in German, 15 seconds in, when officer Lenthe is at the periscope.

I'll look and comment on more in 3 days.



Pete said...

Hi Steve

True that "stretched variants of a boat aren't another class" but the stretch can hide many rearrangements inside the sub, especially of fuel and ballast/water tanks, more sleeping and mess room, more torpedoes. more powerful diesels etc.

If Australia went shopping for SSNs, then buying US or UK SSNs (with whole of life fuel in their reactors) may be better than (refuel every 10 years in France!) Barracuda SSNs.