December 31, 2013

Volgograd bombings and Sochi Olympic security

The location of the first bombing (December 29, 2013) at Volgograd's main train station. Volgograd was known as Stalingrad in World War Two. The sculpture in front is a representation of the Barmaley Fountain - the most iconic symbol of the Battle of Stalingrad.  


Update on January 20, 2014: A video was released of the purported suicide bombers. Males rather than "black widows". They indicated more bombing(s) were inevitable.  see and

Below is an article I wrote - published on Australia's On Line Opinion

Volgograd bombings and Sochi Olympic security

December 25, 2013

Christmas in Australia

Christmas in Australia is at the height of the Southern Hemisphere Summer - so its HOT!  Under such conditions Christmas is often spent at the beach.

Gloucester Cathedral Choir - In the Bleak Midwinter - not "bleak" at all but a warm song.

 After friends and family my favourite thing about Christmas is the Carols, particularly from cold, snowy, slushy, places, like Britain.

 Celtic Woman, Silent Night. Sung in Irish-Gaelic then in English.

 Celtic Woman - Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, composed by Johann Sebastian Bach between 1716 and 1723. It is often performed at Christmas.

Australia's Liberal-National Party Coalition Government have sent me this Christmas Card personally. Aren't they lovely? All creatures great and small :)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year


December 24, 2013

China selling two Type 035 Ming-class submarines to Bangladesh

Chinese Type 035 Ming-class submarines. Two Mings are being sold to Bangladesh for delivery 2019.
------------------ based on a Bangladeshi New Age article

The Ming-class submarines (Type 035) are medium sized diesel-electric submarines. In the 1960s China reverse engineered the Russian Romeo Class into the Chinese Romeo-class Type 033. The Ming-class Type 035 were developed in the 1970s from the Romeo Type 033. China built more than 20 Mings from the 1980s to 2000s in part as a hedge against more risky, higher tech conventional sub projects being delayed particularly the Song-class, Type 039 submarine

Globalsecurity reports that compared to the Romeos the Ming features more powerful diesel-electric propulsion, higher battery capacity, improved propeller and maneuverability, improved seakeeping and underwater endurance and is quieter. 

Chinese Defence Today reports that the Ming has a improved, more streamlined hull design than the Romeos, new engine gearing, all resulting in increased submerged speed. transferring mechanism were used to achieve a higher underwater speed. The Ming also has an improved combat system.

On February 28, 2014 Ahmed Sharif provided some valuable clarifying comments:
"Bangladesh's submarine program is at least 10 years old. In March 2004, a govt. minister told the Parliament about buying 4 subs by 2012. But due to political turmoil, the program got delayed, until late 2008, when a naval confrontation with Myanmar accelerated everything. The program got more acceleration after reports of Myanmar Navy's plans to acquire subs. Over the years, at least 100 sailors received submarine training both in Turkey and in China. There's no reason to believe that the subs would be operated by 17 sailors. Of course initial operation may require Chinese help, but Bangladesh Navy sets a high standard in training and operations, which indicates that even if there is Chinese assistance, it would be for a very short period of time. And these subs are arriving in 2015, not in 2019. This was recently confirmed by a high-placed govt. official to the media. And on another note, the 2 subs are likely to be first batch of a bigger submarine arm. Things are likely to be determined by the economic growth of the country."

SPECIFICATIONS  for China's Type 035 Ming-class submarinefrom in Chinese Defence Today dated May 10, 2006, include: 


Eight 533mm torpedo tubes (6 bow, 2 stern), carrying a total of 18 torpedoes in tubes and storage racks. Alternatively the submarine can carry 32 mines in its tubes.

The Yu-4 (SAET-60) is a passive homing torpedo designed to attack surface targets up to 15km at a speed of 40 knots. The high-explosive warhead weights 400kg.

The Yu-1 is reverse engineered from the Russian Type 53-51, which was designed to attack surface targets with a maximum range of 9.2km at a speed of 39 knots, or 3.7km at 51 knots. The high-explosive warhead weights 400kg.


Fitted with a Pike Jaw hull-mounted, medium-frequency for active and passive search and attack. Later Mings are also equipped with a Sintra DUUX 5 low-frequency passive ranging and interception. The Ming has an I-band surface search radar (NATO code-name: Snoop Tray).

Countermeasures include electronic support measures (ESM), radar warning receiver and direction-finder.


Diesel-electric arrangement, consisting of 2 Shaanxi 6E 390 ZC1 diesel rated at 5,200hp (3.82MW), with 2 Xiangtan alternators and 2 shafts.

Displacement (Surface): 1,584 tons
Displacement (Submerged): 2,113 tons
Length: 76m
Beam: 7.6m
Draft: 5.1m
Speed: (Surfaced) 15 knots, (Dived) 18 knots, (S
norting) 10 knots 
Diviing Depth: N/A
Endurance: 8000 miles at 8 knots snorting, 330 at 4 knots dived.
Crew: 57 (10 officers)


It must be remembered that the Ming is a improvement on basic 1950s Russian submarines. Its (pre-teardrop) design and electronics may make the current Ming equivalent to a British Oberon Class submarine of the early 1970s. That said the Ming is inexpensive so Bangladesh can probably afford two.

Bangladesh's two Mings, when handed over by 2019 are probably strongest in brown and green water defensive warfare in the northern Bay of Bengal around Chittagong.

December 22, 2013

Japan's Epsilon Rocket, An ICBM in Waiting

A Japanese Epsilon research rocket (potentially an ICBM) launched from Uchinoura Space Center in southern Japan.

Click to enlarge Japan's Epsilon rocket. Specifications for the Epsilon include: Height 24.4m, Diameter 2.5m, Mass 91 tons, 3 or 4 stages. Its shape, with no strap-on boosters, is ideal for silo, rail or truck launch. Reduced to 2 stages it might provide the basis for an SLBM.

Modern ballistic missiles generally have solid fuel stages (for quicker preparation and more rugged handling) rather than liquid. So it is more than a coincidence that the first, second and third stages of the Epsilon are solid fuel.

The Epsilon's specifications are very similar to the fully developed (but then cancelled) US MX  ICBM. For comparison the MX's specs are Height 22m, Diameter 2.3m, Weight 97 tons, 3 stages, blast yield 3 Mt total (using up to 10 MIRVs).

The extent to which the US assisted JAXA's Epsilon Project is unclear. Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency (JAXA) is Japan’s NASA equivalent. Space agencies have dual military-civilian use technology and dual-use career personnel. JAXA, and of course NASA, are dual-use - although space agencies rarely admit this. 


NTI August 23, 2013 reported on Japan's increasing ability to develop an ICBM - which of course are the primary means of delivering nuclear weapons :

"Japan's New Military Buildup Seen as Response to North Korea, China"

After decades of hewing to a strictly self-defensive military posture, Japan in recent months has indicated it plans to acquire offensive military capabilities such as ballistic missiles that could be used to carry out advance attacks on North Korea's strategic assets.

Some of Japan's space-program activities have applications in the development of strategic weapons. On Tuesday, the island nation is slated to fire its solid-fueled Epsilon rocket which could potentially be adapted to power an ICBM.

[The first launch of Epsilon, of a small scientific satellite SPRINT-A, occurred on September 14, 2013 at Uchinoura Space Center using a two (solid fuel) stage version of Epsilon.]

These armament plans have raised regional concerns that Tokyo may be shedding its post-World War II pacifist defense posture.

"What is worrisomely ... is that Japan's rearmament would be met with China's reaction, which could cause regional instability," Korea National Defense University Japan researcher Park Young-june said.

The United States, however, is seen as supportive of Japan taking on a more assertive regional role, as it could be useful in meeting the challenge of China's growing military might."


December 16, 2013

Australian Oberon Submarine Intelligence Gathering

HMAS Oxley serenades the Opera House. Oxley and perhaps all six of Australia's Oberon submarines enjoyed a centrally situated submarine bas at HMAS Platypus, Sydney, from around 1967 until moving to HMAS Stirling, Western Australia, in the 1980s. (Photo courtesy

On November 28, 2003 Geoffrey Barker for the Australian Financial Review published the following long but interesting article which was reproduced on Submarine Association Australia's Up Periscope website. The article indicates attack submarines, all over the world, are mainly reconnaissance (intelligence gathering) platforms in peacetime and in many phases of war. Mentioned in the article are Australia's six Oberon Class  submarines which served from 1967 to 2000, preceding the current Collins Class. I've bolded some of the most interesting bits. The article's string is :

"The Mystery Boats"

It's the great untold story of Australian naval history. Throughout the last decade of the cold war, Australian Oberon-class submarines conducted perilous intelligence-gathering operations off the coasts of Vietnam, Indonesia, China and India as part of a global effort to check the Soviet Navy's formidable fleet. Shrouded in secrecy until now, their exposure would have had the power to bring down the government of the day.

DEEP BELOW the choppy surface of the South China Sea, they waited in silence. Inside a black, barnacled metal cigar, 90 metres long and 8.7 metres wide, the stench of diesel fuel and the sour sweat of the crowded 75 men pervaded the humid heat, but nobody noticed. On the surface above, a new Soviet frigate was heading into Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay at a gentle five to six knots.

Seeing an opportunity for what submariners call an `underwater look', the O-boat commanding officer (CO) positioned himself about 1,000 yards (914 metres) behind the frigate to check its speed and course. Then he dived deep and closed quickly to about 200 yards behind the frigate to calculate the depth at which he could photograph its hull shape, propellers, weapons systems and sonar. How close he came would depend on the sea, the keel depth of the frigate and the height of the submarine.

With these calculations in mind, the CO slowed the submarine to about a half-knot above the frigate's speed and listened to course and direction readings from his sonar operators. "Red two getting louder ... Green three softer ... right ahead," the sonar operators called, indicating how many degrees to port or starboard, or how directly, the two vessels were aligned. When the submarine was just 50 yards behind the frigate, the CO raised his periscope. Now, finally, he could see the wake of the frigate. It was his first close visual sighting."

He brought the submarine to within six feet (1.8 metres) of the frigate's hull and passed silently along one side. The O-boat's cameras and hydrophones recorded the images and sounds of the Soviet vessel. Once past the frigate, the CO altered course slightly, slowed down, and allowed the unsuspecting surface vessel to overtake the submarine on the opposite side. Again, the cameras and hydrophones were recording. "If you got it right the first time, it generally took about 30 minutes to complete the maneuver," retired Rear-Admiral Peter Clarke tells The AFR Magazine, 20 years later. "But it was a very full-on thing. You were driving several thousand tons of submarine to within feet of a vessel that you could not see."

Rear-Admiral Clarke commanded the British O-boat HMS Oberon and the nuclear submarine HMS Tireless before transferring to the RAN 10 years ago. A former RAN submarine squadron commander and force element group leader, he adds: "You had to have a three-dimensional picture in your head of what was happening in the water. If you were taking an underwater look at a submarine, you were always concerned that it might dive onto you."

An underwater look was particularly perilous in the warm and turbid water of the South China Sea where visibility is poor. "If we'd raised our periscope, we would have punctured the surface ship's hull," another former O-boat commander recalls. But the risks of collision and death, or of the humiliation of discovery and capture, were worth taking for the intelligence rewards. A successful underwater look would give Western navies complete and accurate knowledge of the defensive and offensive performance capabilities of a potential Soviet adversary. In the event of hostilities, this would be an important combat edge.

WHAT EXACTLY the O-boats did from the end of the 1970s until the early 1990s has been one of the great untold stories of Australian naval history - until now. A decade after the end of the patrols, and nearly five years after the last O-boat was replaced by the Australian-built Collins class submarines, the navy is still extremely reluctant to discuss the patrols.

Many former O-boat commanders say their work and achievements are still too sensitive to disclose. But they want their story to be told and acknowledged. One reason their freedom to speak openly is still restricted by security regulations is that the Collins class submarines are now engaged in sensitive intelligence-collection activities. "We don't want to spook the neighborhood," one know-ledgeable political figure says.

But some lips have been loosened by the publication of books on the Cold War activities of the US and British submarine forces. Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew (Public Affairs, 1998), tells the American story. We Come Unseen by Jim Ring (John Murray, 2001) tells the British story.

Against the background of these publications, some Australian politicians, public servants and submariners have been prepared to give The [Australian Financial Review] AFR Magazine a glimpse into the secret and silent Cold War world of the O-boats, albeit usually on condition of anonymity. Quite apart from revealing a remarkable chapter of Australian maritime history for the first time, the story of the O-boat patrols shows just how diligently Australia has, down the decades and under successive governments, pursued the US alliance.

The Australian O-boat patrols were a response to increasing concerns about the expansion of the Soviet Pacific Fleet under Admiral Sergei Gorshkov from the early 1970s. "It was the second biggest fleet after the Northern Fleet based at Murmansk," a former intelligence officer recalls. "By the late 1980s, Cam Ranh Bay on Vietnam's east coast had become a highly significant Soviet base. There were at least 15 surface ships, some submarines, 30 bomber aircraft, a SIGINT [signal intelligence] station, missile-handling facilities and 10,000 Soviet troops," he says.

From Cam Ranh Bay, Soviet ships would go into the Pacific to target the West Coast of the US. And they were only a few days' travel from Australia's vital sea lines of communications. So the US and Australia shared concerns about the strategic implications of the big Soviet presence. Ironically, the Cam Ranh Bay base had been built by the Americans during the Vietnam war, but was leased by Vietnam to the Soviet Union in 1979. (In May last year, Russia agreed to hand it back to Vietnam.)

Australia's secret O-boat patrols started in 1978 and ended in 1992. They were cancelled by the then Defence Minister in the Keating Labor government, Senator Robert Ray, who, according to senior submariners, panicked when told that one of the O-boats had come dangerously close to being detected. "We paid a high price with that cancellation, both in terms of the body of knowledge we were developing, and in terms of maintenance of the capability," says one veteran of the patrols.

There were, in all, 16 patrols during those 14 years, meaning that one O-boat was out collecting intelligence continuously for part of each year. Two of the six O-boats - Orion and Otama - were the RAN's designated `mystery boats' and were specially fitted for intelligence collection. They made most of the patrols, but Otway and Oxley also made secret patrols. Onslow and Ovens were not involved, but were deployed to track Soviet submarines moving into the Arabian Gulf from Vladivostok via the Coral Sea, south of Tasmania, across the Great Australian Bight and past Cape Leeuwin in WA. The Soviet subs took this route in an effort to avoid detection, but Onslow and Ovens kept an eye on them.

The men primarily responsible for the patrols were former O-boat CO (Otama, Onslow and Otway) Commander Peter Horobin, who was deputy director of submarine policy, and the electronics expert James Armstrong, director of Navy Electronic Warfare. Horobin was a quiet and utterly determined Australian; Armstrong a brilliant English boffin who shocked his colleagues when he announced one day that his uncle was Donald Maclean, the notorious Soviet spy.

It is still not clear exactly why the RAN started the patrols. Some former O-boat commanders believe Australia felt it had to contribute high-quality intelligence to the US and UK to establish the RAN's credentials and credibility at what was then the sharp end of the global Cold War submarine contest. Former intelligence officers say the patrols started at the request of the US. What is certain is that the Australian submarine arm won its spurs in these perilous days of the Cold War.

This was partly because the large US nuclear-powered deep ocean attack submarines were less suited to close-in intelligence-collection patrols in relatively shallow coastal waters. Moreover, the US and British nuclear submarine fleets were fully occupied tracking Soviet submarine activity from their submarine bases on the icy Kola Peninsula in the Barents Sea and at Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka peninsula below the Sea of Okhotsk. US boats were also watching Soviet Pacific Fleet headquarters at Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan.

In the Northern waters, especially in the Arctic region, British Oberon class submarines were conducting electronic surveillance, acoustic signature recording and underwater looks. So it fell to the Australian O-boats to target Cam Ranh Bay and the South China Sea. They also, inevitably, took the opportunity to look over, and listen in to, places of interest en route on the coasts of China and India, which had close defence relations with the Soviet Union. "Conventional submarines are much better than nuclear submarines at littoral surveillance," a political figure familiar with the secret patrols says. "They can get into harbours for a decent look. They can get close to boats and have a useful capacity to listen to their emissions and look at their sonar and propulsion systems.

"If they get close to the coast they also have a capacity to hear what else is around. By getting close to a facility or to a city you can identify a considerable amount of what is being emitted. And that is useful for targeting purposes," he says.

The men who drove the O-boats were among the most remarkable Australian seafarers of their generation. Former commanding officers remember their training at the famous British Perisher submarine command course and their patrols as the most intensely lived moments of their lives. They included the legendary Commander Bob Woolrych, now an avocado farmer in Queensland, and retired Rear-Admiral Peter Briggs, who ended a distinguished naval career in charge of the Collins class submarine repair operation. Others remain in sensitive naval and intelligence posts.

The RAN acquired its six O-boats over 10 years from 1967 to replace a British submarine squadron that had operated in Australia since World War II. Built in Scotland, the O-boats were in service for 30 years. With refits and updates, they were the most silent and capable conventional diesel-electric submarines of their time and ideal for coastal intelligence collection.

The submerged displacement weight of the O-boats was 2,400 tons; their draft was 5. 5 metres. Their maximum speed was 12 knots on the surface and 17.5 knots submerged. Their maximum safe dive depth was 200 metres. Fully armed, the O-boats carried 28 torpedoes that could be fired from six torpedo tubes. They could carry 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel in internal tanks and in numbers three and five of the main ballast tanks. In theory, they could circumnavigate the globe without refuelling.

Designed to accommodate a crew of five officers and 57 ratings, the so-called `mystery boats' usually went on patrol with more than 70 people on board. In addition to their normal complement, there were always some submarine service trainees and civilian `spooks' operating specialised intelligence-collection equipment. Among the crew, monitoring communications from shore facilities and vessels at sea, were specialist linguists, fluent in Russian and regional languages, who could warn of any indication that the submarine had been detected.

During patrols, perhaps not more than 10 people on board would know the boat's location. A curtain was placed around the chart table to discourage curious crew members. Once on patrol, crews quickly adjusted to the crowding and the stink of diesel and sweat; to `hot-bunking' or sleeping on torpedo racks; to careful water use and to the need for minimal noise.

Initial personal tensions evaporated quickly once patrols were under way, although some COs noted that they tended to resurface as patrols ended and crews neared home. One O-boat had an unpopular executive officer named Trevor. The crew smuggled a budgerigar aboard, named it `Trevor the Budgie' and trained it to shit on the officer's white shirt.

On top of the crowded, uncomfortable conditions, O-boat crews had to endure occasional food shortages. One crew famously survived for weeks on omelettes, scrambled eggs and pavlova when it found its supplies reduced to egg powder alone. Another ran out of toilet paper in the first week of a six-week patrol.

More generally, life on the O-boats was lonely and isolated, as well as perilous. There was no communication with families. Personal bad news was withheld from crew members until patrols ended. And there was always the possibility of death at sea, or capture and imprisonment - or execution - as spies.

To the dismay of some O-boat veterans, the Australian Government has refused to recognise their service as warlike and denied their request for an active service medal (see box page 21). The issue particularly rankles with Bob Woolrych. "In the event of capture, there were quite specific instructions on what to ask for in order to get better treatment. We thought it an exercise in pissing into the wind at the time ... We would have been thrown to the sharks," he says.

The O-boats were organised in two watches and could be brought to action on either watch. Crews worked six-hour shifts and had four meals per day. Commanding officers, though, tended to survive on only two to two-and-a-half hours' sleep in every 24-hour period on patrol. "You were always prowling," one CO recalls.

The story of the O-boats is a salutary reminder of the seriousness of the long Cold War nuclear standoff that ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The derring-do of underwater looks wasn't the main activity of the O-boats. During their six-week patrols, mostly out of HMAS Platypus, their base in Neutral Bay, Sydney, they spent most of their time submerged in the South China Sea, with antennas raised above the water, conducting electronic surveillance. "Hoovering stuff out of the atmosphere," is how one former commander describes the activity.

Their other task was to record the acoustic signatures of Soviet surface ships and submarines. The O-boat would lie submerged and silent, passive sonar hydrophones switched on, to record the sounds of passing ships and submarines. "We have been able to identify signatures for individual ships. Hulls, air-conditioning, pumps, have characteristic sound signatures," a commander recalls. The recorded sound signatures were fed into the computers of Australian, American and British submarines. This would enable them to identify the vessel and its capabilities in the event of hostilities. Again the combat edge would be important.

Although they operated under rules of engagement that prevented them from trespassing on the territorial waters of littoral states, they were permitted to pursue interesting targets if the CO judged the intelligence pay-off was worth the risk. The strictly enforced rule, however, was that the O-boats had to stay on the high seas.

As one former Commander says: "There was no need to enter territorial waters, and the penalties were too high if you were caught. Most of the navy didn't know what we were doing, and probably only two politicians - the prime minister and the defence minister. You had an obligation to get it right, because if you stuffed up you could bring down a government." The O-boats were certainly not permitted to make pre-emptive torpedo attacks against potential adversaries, but they were permitted to go within six feet (1.8 metres) of vessels for those `underwater looks'.

With the growth of the Soviet nuclear submarine fleet in the Atlantic theatre in the 1970s, the US navy set itself the task of achieving timely indications and warnings 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Assisted by the smaller British submarine fleet, the US succeeded. A main focus of the British activity was high-quality intelligence collection, including from British Oberon class submarines.

Australian O-boat commanders agree that the Australian program grew out of the British program and from the strong historical and cultural links between the British and Australian submarine services. According to some authorities, however, the patrols may have acquired special urgency following the New Zealand Government decision in 1984 to exclude nuclear-armed American warships, and indeed all nuclear-armed vessels, from NZ waters.

The Americans responded to what they saw as a major crisis in the Western alliance by excluding New Zealand from what was known at the time as the `Five Eyes' - the intelligence-sharing arrangements between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK and the US. The group was known secretly as `AUSCANNZUKUS'. It held annual conferences with plenary, working and top-secret sessions.

The US eventually agreed that New Zealand could remain a member of the Five Eyes, but that it could not continue to receive the top-level information. At the time, despite its opposition to the NZ nuclear-ship policy, Australia found itself disadvantaged by regional association with New Zealand. Australian delegates at the 1984 and 1985 conferences, held in Washington and Ottawa, sensed that they too were being excluded from what one authority called "the really sexy stuff".

They were certainly excluded from the top-secret sessions. The result was a more intense Australian effort to regain US favour and full Five Eyes access by producing more and better intelligence information from its O-boat patrols. It was a gambit that worked to Australia's great advantage.

But long before these developments Australia had selected Orion and Otama to be its `mystery boats'. They were given a specialised fit with, among other things, upward-looking cameras, detuned hydrophones to record unfiltered noise, and other sensors. Initially, however, the program did not have strong political or even navy support. "A lot was done by blokes on an ad hoc basis," Rear Admiral Clarke remembers. "The Defence Science and Technology Organisation and the Defence Signals Directorate worked on bits and pieces and so did some navy boffins. It was good stuff, done on a wing and a prayer. They did outstanding work."

Another former CO remembers that Orion, at least, was worked up for its role as a `mystery boat' before it left the UK for Australia. "The Royal Navy were very good to us," another CO says. "They took out a lot of old gear and we got better cameras." A typical O-boat patrol would last from six to eight weeks from its beginning to its end at HMAS Platypus.

The first eight to 10 days would be a fast surface transit at about 12 knots. Then a surface-dive transit would follow at seven to 10 knots before a so-called `discreet transit' into the area of operations. During three to three-and-a-half weeks on station - listening, recording, watching - the O-boat remained submerged, with only masts raised, operating in what was called `ultra-quiet' state.

The vessel might move out to sea from its offshore position at night in order to perform noisy tasks, including discharging wastes and charging batteries. On its return home, the boat's performance would be affected by the drag created by barnacles that grew quickly in the warm South China Sea waters, clinging even to periscope lenses. Some O-boat commanders surfaced and scraped the barnacles at sea before entering port; others preferred to remove them with high-pressure water hoses once they were docked.

Despite the dangers they faced and the extraordinary intelligence they collected, there seems a consensus among former O-boat commanders that their patrols into the Pacific, South China Sea and the Indian Ocean were relatively less intense and less important than the US and British patrols in the Atlantic, Arctic and northern Pacific regions. "For Washington," a former commander says, "the primary interest was the Atlantic. It was more politically sensitive. Washington and London saw the Atlantic threat as more immediate than the Pacific threat."

"I think we were always up against the second 11," says another. Russian technology was never as good as ours. The Russians out of Cam Ranh Bay were not built for the tropics. They relied on petty officers and a crew of conscripts who knew very little. Their operations in the Pacific were at the lower end of the scale. They may have been better in home waters."

None of this diminishes in any way the Cold War contribution of the O-boats. Senior figures in the US administration acknowledge the importance of their role and estimate that the Collins class submarines now boost US naval capability in the Pacific by 20 per cent. At the very least, as one O-boat commander puts it, the secret patrols admitted Australia to one of the biggest big games in the Cold War and demonstrated the capacity of the Australian submarine arm at a time of high international tension.

And where are they now? Onslow is at Sydney's Darling Harbour; Oxley is in a park at Holbrook in southern NSW; Ovens is in Fremantle, WA; Otama is being prepared for display at Hastings, Victoria; Oxley's fin is on display at HMAS Stirling, WA; and Orion will be scrapped.

Mystery boats no longer, the O-boats are now museum attractions, climbed over daily by children and parents who marvel at the equipment and machinery packed into their claustrophobic narrowness. They ask how more than 70 human beings managed to exist for nearly two months at a time inside these cramped and dangerous spaces far below the surface of the sea. The answer is simple: they were brave and balanced men who knew they were doing vital work for their country.

A test of their medal

"The work was known to very few in government, defence and navy. The missions were conducted as `war patrols' and the tasks undertaken by these submarines [were] considered ... to be among the most hazardous undertaken by RAN seagoing units for many decades."

These words were written by the national president of the Australian Submarine Association, Captain Barry Nobes (rtd), to the Defence Force Chief General Peter Cosgrove as part of a plea for the Australian Active Service Medal (special operations) to be awarded to submariners who served on the secret spy patrols.

Reflecting the submariners' view that they had not been adequately recognised with the award of the Australian Service Medal (with special ops clasp), Nobes reminded Cosgrove that the O-boat patrols "were of great importance to the nation in the era of the Cold War."

But Cosgrove was unmoved. Whether the AASM or the ASM was the appropriate medal, he replied in August this year, hinged on the definition of `warlike' and `non-warlike' operations `under current regulations'. And the reviewing officers had determined the O-boat service warranted the ASM with special ops clasp because the operations were non-warlike.

Why? "... the nature of these patrols was not warlike," Cosgrove wrote, "because the application of force was not authorised, there was no expectations of casualties, there was no state of declared war, there were no conventional combat operations against an armed adversary [and] they were not peace-enforcement operations."

Cosgrove's ruling offended O-boat drivers who had operated under rules of engagement that allowed hot pursuit of intelligence targets and permitted submarines to move to within feet of surface ships for intelligence-collection purposes. But Cosgrove was adamant, telling the submariners that they could be proud of their ASM with special ops clasp, and concluding: "I regret that I can be of no further assistance to you in the matter."

Some submariners were annoyed by Captain Nobes's subsequent advice to them: "... we should accept this decision with the knowledge that we have done our best to secure a favourable outcome, but the regulations ... are very unlikely to be changed [and] do not permit it. I believe that any further submissions will be futile and possibly counter-productive in other areas, such as health and welfare, where we really do need support.

It is unlikely that this will be the last word on the medal issue. Submariners are tough and determined old salts and their claim for the AASM does seem to have been sunk by regulations that define warlike service very narrowly indeed. If the nature of the patrols and the dangers to which they exposed crews were not in the ordinary meaning of the word `warlike', then it is hard to see just what would qualify.

Certainly to describe such patrols as `non-warlike' is to play down the hazards and the accomplishments. Service in the O-boats required courage and daring. It was more sustained and more active than much of the military service that now qualifies as active service."

December 13, 2013

Australian submarine selection, GMH closing, defence spending

Part of the Australian Submarine Corporation's complex, Adelaide, South Australia (Image from )
Most public interest generally focusses on a submarine's military technology, attributes and functions. Submarine technology, tactics and their missiles are cool. But below the surface are other pivotal matters including domestic industrial policy, jobs, international relations and government budgeting.

The December 10-11, 2013 announcement that General Motors Holden (GMH) will close its Adelaide factory in 2017 (Adelaide's Mitsubishi car factory closed in 2008) will impact on Australia's submarine selection. Adelaide is the capital of the ship-submarine building state of South Australia. South Australia relies on manufacturing more than other Australian states because South Australia has smaller mining, energy and agricultural resources than most states. Australia's federal government may well find it necessary to direct more funding, in the shape of defence spending, to South Australia, for jobs, economic growth and ultimately votes.

The Adelaide based Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) is Australia's largest domestic defence company (as distinct from foreign owned Boeing and Lockheed Martin). From the 1980s to the 2000s ASC (working with Kockums and other foreign corporations) built the six Collins Class submarines. ASC is now involved in the expensive and extensive maintenance of the six Collins - see .

ASC's main current defence construction activity is building the three Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyers (AWDs) - also see .  


The closure of GMH in Adelaide in 2017 may impact not only on the Federal and South Australian states determination to that the future submarines be constructed domestically but also impact on the timing of future submarine project - SEA 1000 . As things stand it appears that many of the decisions for SEA 1000 might not be made until 2020, if not later. South Australian workers, businessmen and voters may well object to this timing. An earlier decision that might involve the ASC concurrently performing substantial work on a future submarine, as well as completing the AWDs, may be necessary.


December 6, 2013

The HDW 218SG - 2,000-4,000 tonne submarine [proved to be 2,000-2,200 tonnes]

Diagram of HDW 216 arrangement. A 2,000 to 4,000 tonne HDW 218SG submarine (same as or smaller than a HDW 216) would have long range for Asia-Pacific conditions. The design would include greater diesel and battery capacity, AIP and possibly a vertical multi-purpose lock (VMPL) permitting vertical launch capabilities. A horizontal lock, in place of 2 torpedo tubes, might provide be an alternative to a VMPL.

Note - the predictions in this 2013 article proved to be wrong (it happens!). When Singapore's Type 218SG was launched on February 18, 2019 its weight proved to be 2,000 tonnes (surfaced) and 2,200 tonnes (submerged) with no reported unusual innovations (like a VMPL).

This article follows on from earlier article announcing Singapore's December 2, 2013, decision to buy two HDW 218SG subs. The HDW 218SG might be a 3000 to 4,000 tonne submarine - for the following reasons:

  • HDW is increasingly reliant on its Asia-Pacific customer base. Asia-Pacific customers need longer range submarines and other features such as land attack missile capability. In terms of size this signifies a evolution from below 2,000 tonne HDW 212/214 subs built mainly for European (Baltic, Arctic Ocean, North Atlantic) conditions to a 2,000+ tonne design (see below) for Asia-Pacific (Indian and Pacific Oceans) conditions.

  • TKMS-Kockums already has experience in helping to design considerably larger than the European size. That experience is in building the 3,000 tonne Collins Class. TKMS bought Kockums not only to remove Kockums as a competitor to HDW but to utilise Kockums' experience, workforce, technology and design information - including the process of building a  larger submarine.
  • HDW is developing the 2,000+ to 4,000 tonne, 218 (Asia-Pacific) design not only for Singaporean but for the Australian, Canadian and Indian markets. 
  • The 218SG build schedule (for launch around 2019 - 2021) coincides with South Korea's building schedule (from 2018) for its planned 3,000 tonne submarine the KSS-III (D-3000). South Korean subs to date have heavily relied on HDW 209  (KSS-I) and HDW 214 (KSS-II) designs. This pattern suggests that the 3,000 KSS-III will also be supported by HDW design work despite South Korea's claims of a wholly "indigenous" KSS-III design.
  • A 2,000 to 4,000 tonne submarine could incorporate heavier battery, increased diesel oil and large  AIP capacity for increased Asia-Pacific range requirements.  Advice here is "the 218SG will have 240-320kw PEM fuel cell AIP (offering 22-30 days at 5 kts)".  Heavier batteries can also allow longer range submerged operation with higher discretion (non-snorkel use) rates against (mainly) Chinese sensor platforms. 
  • A 2,000 to 4,000 tonne submarine would also have the range to permit Singaporean use of refuelling-replenishment bases belonging to its US and Australian allies. Such bases include Diego Garcia, Guam, Pearl Harbor and Rockingham (Australia).


The HDW 218SG is most probably designed for long-range Asia-Pacific conditions, all requiring a 2,000 - 4,000 tonne displacement. SG signifies a subset of HDW 218 customized for Singaporean conditions - including air-conditioning for tropical weather, hull-anechoic coating optimized for warmer sea use and a Singaporean-specialized combat system. The HDW 218SG probably represents HDW's latest export submarine design for launch around 2018 and first delivery around 2020.

The designation 218 (neither 214 nor 216) provides uncertainty over the 218's features and weight. This uncertainty provides advantages for Singapore's national security and commercial-competitive secrecy for HDW. HDW would also wish to avoid any mid-build headlines like those experienced by Navantia over the S-80 - see the S-80's weight problems at .

By not specifying the 218's weight this also permits flexibility in balancing desirable features, within Singapore's expected tonnage parametres, without politicized assumptions. Development of a 218SG somewhere in the 2,000 - 4,000 weight range also may have implications for HDW's likely tendering for Australia's future submarine SEA 1000 project.


December 3, 2013

Singapore buying two HDW 218SG submarines - Sweden's loss

The Israeli AIP Dolphin 2 at just over 2,000 tonnes evolved from the HDW 209 and HDW 212. The HDW 218SG is very similar to the Dolphin 2 in length and beam. See model of the 218SG later revealed.

Where will the Type 218SG fit on this HDW submarine tree?

For the latest on Sweden vs Germany see June 11, 2014’s Australia's Future Submarine - Swedish vs German Claims .

After two decades of buying renovated submarines from Kockums Singapore will  buy two new-build submarines designated HDW 218SG. Significantly the 218SGs are from Thyssenkrupp Marine System (TKMS) German submarine division HDW rather than from Kockumss which TKMS also owns. The 218SGs will be built at HDW's shipyard in the northern German port of Kiel.

Singapore's Defence Ministry (Mindef) signed the purchase deal with TKMS on November 29, 2013 to buy two the 218SGs.  The contract was likely to be worth more than 1 billion euros (US$1.36 billion).

In hindsight this website's November 13, 2013 article was an indicator that HDW winning the Singapore order was suspected by the Swedish and German media. Singapore's 218SG decision is clearly a blow to Kockums and to Sweden's Navy (which would rely on foreign sales of Kockums subs to lower unit costs of Kockums subs). Unless the Swedish Government or a Swedish firm buys back Kockums Sweden might be forced to buy its future submarines from HDW or at least TKMS owned Kockums. Also link with Saab Being Subsidized to Buy Back Kockums? of March 4, 2014 .

For Singapore there is some continuity buying customised submarines - from customised Kockums Archer and Challenger Class to customised HDW 218SG class.

I suspect HDW 218SG will be an enlarged evolution of the HDW 209, 212 or 214, perhaps like Israel's HDW built Dolphin 2s. The HDW 218SG may be larger - between 2,000 and 3,000 tons (surfaced) see . Given the expected 218SG delivery date of 2020 it is unlikely that the 218SG would be radically enlarged to 4,000 tonnes (HDW 216 Class). A 4,000 tonne design would probably take longer than the seven years to develop (2013-2020). Also the 218's purchase price of around US$650 million each implies an existing design rather than a radically new 4,000 ton (surfaced) 216 which would be far more expensive.

The two 218SGs, together with two existing Kockums Archer Class submarines, will replace the four ageing Challenger Class submarines, built in the 1960s and acquired by Singapore in the 1990s, which will be progressively retired from service. This follows Singaporean Defence Minister Ng Hen's comments in March 2013 about Mindef's plan to replace the Challenger submarines.

The 218SG contract includes a logistics package and the training of Singaporean crew in Germany. The 218SGs will have significantly improved capabilities including new build fuel cell Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) which significantly increases a  submarine’s  underwater range and hence reduces the risk of detection.

TKMS indicated Singapore Technologies Electronics, a unit of defence conglomerate Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd , would co-develop the submarines' tailor-made combat system with Atlas Elektronik GmbH, a joint venture of ThyssenKrupp and European aerospace group EADS. Atlas already builds combat systems for other HDW subs including the Israeli Dolphin Class.
Singapore's projected defence budget for 2013 is Sg$12.34 billion (US$9.84 billion) up from 2012's Sg$11.83 billion in 2012. Under Singaporean law all able-bodied men must serve for two years in the military upon turning 18, providing additional manpower on top of the estimated 20,000 regulars. Singapore, surrounded by far larger neighbours has pursued a robust  defence strategy since its complicated split from Malaysia in 1965. In part due to this large neighbour situation Singapore has cemented close relations with the US, Australian and Israeli military for decades.

For some Comments made in September 2009 which envisaged market distortion between HDW and Kockums see this website's earlier article on Singapore's Archer and Challenger Class submarines at .


December 1, 2013

SEA 1000 Continued - Maybe no VLS and no LockMart

So many choices for Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) or broader term Vertical Multi-Purpose Locks (VMPL). Nice to have - adding strategic and tactical flexibility - but very heavy and expensive for a diesel-electric submarine limited to 4,500 tonnes (submerged).

The following is MHalblaub's comment of "Australian SEA 1000 future submaine - an S-80 development or HDW 216?" of November 30, 2013 at

"Dear Pete,

our view coincide that SEA 1000 is a very ambitious project. Just like the F-35. Ambitious defence projects tend to be delayed and more expensive than expected. In my opinion both projects are far too ambitious.

That any submarine has to use a Lockheed Martin SUBIC combat system will not enhance the development time. The decision to use this combat system is not based on requirements. In my opinion it is only based on cronyism because nobody tried to ask if Australia could get better insight in another system.

A vertical launch system (VLS) is nice to have in case of a real big submarine like the Vertical Multi-Purpose Lock (VMPL) on planed Type 216. You said many missiles could be fired at once from one submarine. My argument is that for one big SEA 1000 submarine at a cost of A$3 billion each Australia could buy 4 small submarines instead with capability to fire even more missiles at once.

For a "piggyback" submarine a VMPL is also unnecessary. A26 or 210mod are planned with a big “torpedo” tube for special purpose. A smaller submarine can get closer to the shore and the "piggyback" sub doesn’t have to be big.

You have the fear an "interim" sub could become a permanent fix. My fear is that without an interim solution Australia will have no operational submarine in the future. A big submarine even with support by DCNS or HDW and interference by ASC will not be ready before 2030. Navantia is troubled to get the S-80 working. A sole Australian submarine solution might be ready in 2040 (IOC). A small “Off The Shelf” (OTS) solution could be built fast in case no big changes were made to sonar system, command and control system, torpedoes …

I also doubt the claim it would be uneconomic to operate two types of submarines at once. At the moment RAN operates one very uneconomic type of submarine. Does RAN also operate just one type of surface ships because this is more economic? Do you think the F-35 will be the only fighter aircraft for RAAF?

Even with SEA 1000 RAN will operate two types at once for a while. I expect it will be a very unreliable Collins-class with incredible maintenance costs and a troubled SEA 1000 program with many delays.

What about politics? Do you think Australia could use an US built nuclear submarine for any mission without restrictions from Washington? Maybe the best solution would be two or three Virginia-class submarines and a fleet of “cheap” small submarines.

Missile systems:
The seeker system of a Popeye missile was build to hit land targets while the Harpoon was initially built against ships. Therefore I think Israel did use Popeye missiles with a 50 % bigger and better suited warhead.



Pete's Response 

Hi MHalblaub

Not only is SEA 1000's plans to develop an Australia only SSK ambitious, expensive and highly risky but Australia's planned future purchase of 100 Lockheed Martin F-35s from around 2016 would frustrate and delay any major expenditure on the SEA 1000 project.

The purchase of a Lockheed Martin submarine combat system may indeed add risk to the SEA 1000 project given Lockheed Martin has established a convincing reputation for over-time and over-budget. The extent of Lockheed Martin's political, hence market, power in the US conquers mere considerations of cost and efficiency.

A Vertical Multi-Purpose Lock (VMPL) (of course with VLS capabilities) may indeed be a heavy luxury that may not bring sufficient benefits. Tomahawks fired from 6 standard horizontal tubes could be achieved quickly.

On mini piggy back subs and diver exit I noticed "The Collins class boats are also capable of supporting special forces teams. In 2005, Collins was fitted with various modifications to support special forces, including exterior shelters for inflatable boats. [HMAS] Dechaineux was modified in 2006, and the other submarines will receive the hatches during their full cycle docking."

To avoid what I still see overly problematic options of an interim sub or two SSK designs operating simultaneously the only solution might be to buy a large existing design Off The Shelf. This could be from the most experienced exporters-indigenous build supporters which are DCNS and HDW. In comparison Navantia with its currently troubled S-80 design has comparatively little submarine building experience and no independent sub export or indigenous sub build support experience.

Unfortunately Navantia's problems in themselves might form a sufficient recipe for Navantia's selection by Australia. Our acquisition trend is frequently weighted in favour of choosing under-developed, hence problematic designs like the F-111, then the Collins and now Australia believes itself committed to 100 troubled F-35s.

A DCNS (SSK or SSK transition to SSN) will be considered in following articles as will the Japanese Soryu Class .

Mission restrictions may well be a problem from choosing a US (SSN) or Japanese (SSK) design. But then again the political and strategic advantages of choosing a design from an Asia-Pacific ally like the US and Japan must be factored in.

Regarding Israel's recent use of possible a Harpoon land attack or Popeye missile the issue becomes even more clouded with:

"The Harpoon Block II adds GPS guidance, improved processing that helps it distinguish targets amidst near-shore “clutter,” and land attack features. Harpoon competes with Israel’s own ship-borne Gabriel 3 anti-ship missile external link; Israel’s Navy operates both types,"