November 29, 2012

Australia's Future Submarine - Virginia Class Best Option

Click to see large, detailed description of the Virginia Class sub - probably the best future option for Australia.

Australia's Future Submarine Project (SEA 1000) planning process continues to move at a glacial pace. If its moving at all? The issues appear to be too daunting to make decisions. The cost of the project may also be beyond Australia's declining Defence budget.

Australia's Department of Defence might also be slowing progress until politicians will agree to nuclear propulsion for the submarines. At present leftwing (or realistic?) elements who dominate Australia's "hung Parliament" have simply blocked official discussion of nuclear propulsion options. The next Australian Federal elections (probably in late 2013) might produce an Australian Government that agrees to nuclear propulsion.
There continues to be considerable unofficial support for nuclear propulsion - including Simon Cowan's  Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) Policy Monograph 130 of 2012 at

"Future Submarine Project Should Raise Periscope for Another LookSimon Cowan"

Executive Summary

The Future Submarine project seeks to replace the ageing Collins Class submarines with 12 new submarines (commonly called the Future Submarines). Early estimates indicate building the new submarines could cost anywhere between $10 billion and $40 billion over the next 15 to 20 years, making this the largest and most complex defence project ever undertaken by Australia.

In May 2012, the government committed $214 million to conduct design studies, scientific appraisals, and industry skilling needs analysis for the project; initial approval is expected in late 2013 to early 2014.

The current Collins Class submarines have serious flaws, including poor availability, high sustainment and running costs, and a history of classwide defects. Some of these flaws are systemic to the Royal Australian Navy, while others are the result of risks inherent in substantially redesigning an existing submarine to operate different systems and meet different objectives.

Despite the risks of this ‘evolutionary’ submarine design process and the poor outcomes from the Collins Class submarines, the government is likely to follow a similar design process for the Future Submarines. It is looking at submarine design options, has committed to assembling the submarines in Adelaide, and has repeatedly refused to consider leasing nuclear powered submarines like the US Navy’s highly capable nuclear-powered fast attack submarine, the Virginia Class.

With a much greater range, higher top speed, greater endurance, fewer ‘indiscretions,’1 much higher power output, better sensors, and superior unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) technology, the nuclear-powered Virginia Class is an altogether better submarine than any diesel-powered Collins Class replacement might be.

The Virginia Class is much more reliable and cost effective than the Collins Class. Acquiring eight Virginia Class submarines might cost between $23 billion and $27 billion (including the upfront cost of leasing the submarines as well as program, facilities and set-up costs), a saving of more than $10 billion over current estimates for evolutionary designed Future Submarines.

In addition, up to three-quarters of a billion dollars a year can be saved in operational and maintenance costs from the Virginia Class if the costs of the Collins Class are any guide.

Acquiring finished submarines from the United States would also avert a potentially disastrous capability gap developing between the retirement of the Collins Class and thecommissioning of an evolutionary-designed Future Submarine.

Neither the arguments against nuclear-powered submarines (such as defence self-sufficiency needs, skills shortages, and safety concerns) nor the protectionist rhetoric on behalf of the defence industry stand up to scrutiny.

Nuclear-powered submarines require careful planning to ensure their safe operation, but US nuclear-powered submarines have a proven safety record over many decades.

US submarines have often visited Australia without nuclear incidents. Also, the nuclear reactor in a submarine is tiny compared to a nuclear power plant on land, so the potential damage in an accident is much lower. Too often an ideological phobia of nuclear power is behind these concerns.

Australia’s self-reliance is arguable at best. Australia is heavily reliant on the international defence community for the development and sustainment of its platforms (e.g. through Australian subsidiaries of global defence companies). The extent of Australia’s self-sufficiency also needs to be re-examined in light of capability concerns stemming from Australia’s declining defence budget.

As for skills shortages, leasing US submarines will give Australia access to the US sustainment supply chain. Australia can import capabilities for low-level maintenance and access US facilities for deeper reactor-level maintenance. The United States could also upgrade Australian submarines alongside US submarines and dispose of Australia’s spent nuclear fuel after the submarines are decommissioned.

It is unfortunate that the Future Submarine selection process to date has been marred by indecision and waste, conflicts of interest, and substandard procurement practices. Decisions already made have not been justified and long delays have occurred, all in an environment where the Australian Defence Force is facing serious challenges both at home and abroad.

The government needs to take immediate action to rectify this situation. A good first step would be to revisit some of its previous decisions on the Future Submarine project and ensure that the cornerstone of the Navy of the future is the best submarine for the job." WHOLE MONOGRAPH

1 comment:

peacefulspirits said...

Two thoughts.

Relatively little point in the sesubs if they not nuclear.

Would it not be more sensible to build a drone research and development capability?