January 19, 2012

Australia 2009 Defence White Paper - Submarine Bonanza

One of six existing Australian Collins Class (to be replaced around 2020 to 2027)
Australia's long awaited 2009 2009 Defence White Paper Defending Australia in the Asian Century: Force 2030 is according to the Media Release a “...complete re-examination of Defence strategy, capabilities, business processes and resources,..”. It covers a great deal of ground. I think it does it well.

About the India Ocean the White Paper says in part:

“[page 37, 4.43 The Indian Ocean will have greater strategic significance in the period to 2030. It will become an increasingly important global trading thoroughfare, particularly for energy supplies between Asia and the Middle East.
There are a number of significant inter-state and intra-state conflicts along its periphery that have the potential to draw in other powers. Over time, and in response to these factors as well as transnational security issues such as piracy, the Indian Ocean is likely to host a larger military (particularly naval) presence.
A number of major naval powers are likely to increasingly compete for strategic advantage in this crucial maritime region. Over the period to 2030, the Indian Ocean will join the Pacific Ocean in terms of its centrality to our maritime strategy and defence planning.”

The most surprising and significant decision in the White Paper is to build a class of 12 large conventional submarines, hence:

"page 64. 8.40 In the case of the submarine force,the Government takes the view that our future strategic circumstances necessitate a substantially expanded submarine fleet of 12 boats in order to sustain a force at sea large enough in a crisis or conflict to be able to defend our approaches (including at considerable distance from Australia, if necessary), protect and support other ADF assets, and undertake certain strategic missions where the stealth and other operating characteristics of highly-capable advanced submarines would be crucial. Moreover, a larger submarine force would significantly increase the military planning challenges faced by any adversaries, and increase the size and capabilities of the force they would have to be prepared to commit to attack us directly, or coerce, intimidate or otherwise employ military power against us.

[page 70] 9.3 ...12 new Future Submarines, to be assembled in South Australia. This will be a major design and construction program spanning three decades, and will be Australia's largest ever single defence project. The Future Submarine will have greater range, longer endurance on patrol, and expanded capabilities compared to the current Collins class submarine. [hence heavier] It will also be equipped with very secure real-time communications and be able to carry different mission payloads such as uninhabited underwater vehicles.

9.4 The Future Submarine will be capable of a range of tasks such as anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare; strategic strike; mine detection and mine-laying operations; intelligence collection; supporting special forces (including infiltration and exfiltration missions); and gathering battlespace data in support of operations.

9.5 Long transits and potentially short-notice contingencies in our primary operational environment demand high levels of mobility and endurance [hence Air Independent Propulsion] in the Future Submarine. The boats need to be able to undertake prolonged covert patrols over the full distance of our strategic approaches and in operational areas. They require low signatures across all spectrums, including at higher speeds. The Government has ruled out nuclear propulsion for these submarines.

9.6 The complex task of capability definition, design and construction must be undertaken without delay, given the long lead times and technical challenges involved. The Government has already directed that a dedicated project office be established for the Future Submarine within Defence, and will closely oversee this project.

9.7 The strategic importance of this capability is such that Australian industry involvement will need to be factored into the design, development and construction phases, and the sustainment and maintenance life cycle of these boats, which will extend well into the 2050s and possibly beyond. The Government

[p71] 9.7 continued - will give early consideration to the complex capability definition and acquisition issues involved in this substantial undertaking. The Government will also consider matters such as basing and crewing, and will seek early advice from Defence on those and other issues.

9.8 For this project to succeed, we need to engage with a number of overseas partners during the design and development phase. In particular, the Government intends to continue the very close level of Australia-US collaboration in undersea warfare capability. This will be crucial in the development and through life management of the Future Submarine.

9.9 The Government has also agreed to further incremental upgrades to the Collins class submarines throughout the next decade, including new sonars, to ensure they remain highly effective through to their retirement. The construction program for the Future Submarines will be designed to provide the Government with the option to continue building additional submarines in the 2030s and beyond, should strategic circumstances require it.

9.10 The Government is determined to respond decisively to deficiencies in the current availability of operationally ready submarines. The Navy will embark on a major reform program to improve the availability of the Collins class fleet, and will also ensure that a solid foundation is laid for the expanded future submarine force. These reforms will change how we attract, remunerate, train and manage the submarine workforce, and improve the deployment and maintenance of the submarines."

- while earlier boats may launch Tomahawks (along with Harpoons, torpedoes and mines) through conventional, horizontal torpedo tubes later boats in the new class of 12 (say number 5 onwards) might have an 8 (or so) tube vertical launch system (VLS) for Tomahawks.
- 12 new conventional submarines, mainly launched 2020 to 2035

- large conventional probably 4,000 tons surfaced, 4,500 tons submerged (hence larger than the Collins Class at 3,000 submerged). Note that this will be more modern than the closest foreign boats, the four 4,200 ton submerged Japanese AIP Soryu Class submarines (one launched this year).
- requirement for longer range means more diesel fuel so more weight. If the submarines were merely defensive then long range would be less important. New emphasis on land attack ability with Tomahawks implies range sufficient to move underwater near the Asian mainland (China, Pakistan, a nuclear Iran and maybe India (sorry ;) and possibly against a resurgent Japan. Once a launch zone near the mainland is reached, a loiter time of 3 to 4 weeks would be ideal. This is a deterrent only - so Australia wouldn't be a pushover if countries wished to take our resources by force or blockade.

- Given an opponent's satellite and other sensors ability to detect snorkelling any self-respecting conventional sub needs an Air Independent Propulsion system (AIP) allowing much longer submerged operation (weeks rather than days).
- Australia may build a development of the Collins Class design with Dutch, German (HDW), French, Spanish (watch the S-80) and/or US assistance. Language barriers, possible strategic competition would probably rule out South Korean and Japanese (add Japanese constitutional restrictions) designs.
- Lack of recent US experience in conventional propulsion or with AIP would reduce its chances of being the only foreign contracting nation. Yet the US is a "dark horse" there were many problems with the Collins on hull quieting and cavitation that the US worked out. Part of Kockums problems (I think) stemmed from enlarging a smaller Swedish design to Collins size. A noisy, hull resulted. The US has more experience with quieting measures pertaining to large ocean going hulls. Where the Paper talks about US assistance on submarines and that is likely to come in the form of intergrating weapons, sonar, command and control amounting to combat system (Raytheon is the existing contractor to the Collins for this). electromagnetic/electronic signature minimisation (stealth) and weapons fit General Dynamics Electric Boat perhaps Northrop Grumman (if it lives down "Wedgetail").

- subsonic Tomahawk missiles are stealthy and part of an EW attack, however, a much faster mach 2+ weapon (retaining 2,000+ km range) would eventually be preferable for surprise land attack, quick response and to evade anti missile defences, such as the Russian or Chinese sourced S-400 (or equivalent) SAMs.
It is likely that no Future Submarine will be launched before 2025 if competitive selection, design, production, and Collins retirement cycles are taken into account. Furthermore most Australian politicians mark time in 3 year electoral cycles so there are few certainties over ten to twenty year time spans. Given the state of the Australian economy (in recession) a reduction to just six Future Submarines by 2030 is quite possible.

After talking of 100 F-35s for the Air Force (RAAF) and the 12 submarines for the Navy the White Paper did not discuss needs for the army to the same extent. A tradeoff towards Army needs (especially in Afghanistan, East Timor, maybe the Solomons, one day PNG) may reduce the Air Force and Navy wish list. Though I still think more capable submarines for Australia are a very manpower effective way to wage medium intensity and high intensity (nuclear) warfare.

As someone who sees submarines as a key defensive and offensive weapon for a maritime country like Australia I feel satisfied (almost vindicated) that the Australian government is leaning heavily towards submarines for our defence.