September 8, 2014

Australia's Future Sub likely to be Japan's Soryu, outsider is Germany

Australia's Collins class submarine compared with the prospect of Australia buying the Soryu. Disregard the range figures above for the Collins as they are for highly unlikely surfaced operation. (Diagram Courtesy of Fairfax Media). 


On September 8, 2014 Australian Prime Minister Abbott reignited jobs-industry concerns by raising doubts that Australia's long anticipated future submarines will be built locally. Instead these submarines might be built more quickly and cheaply in Japan. If built in Japan they would almost certainly be Soryu class submarines. Jay Weatherill, the Labor Premier of South Australia, is adamant that submarines should again be built in his state - following the Collins build there. The prospect of assigning the project to Japan brings up many issues including: fewer job opportunities for Australians; no cash injection for South Australia's economy; and (dealt with below) Australia being Japan's first major defence customer as well as Soryu range limitations. 

I raised many Australian submarine procurement issues in an article Future submarines: Australia's $40 billion risk of July 21, 2014 on On Line Opinion. As I indicated in that earlier OLO piece I support building the future submarines overseas rather than much more slowly and expensively re-inventing a submarine building industry in Australia. 

It is possible that Abbott has intentionally made the submarine issue a contentious diversion from other issues bedevilling the Abbott Government. Abbott appears to be successfully refocusing public attention away from his weaknesses (the Budget and Palmer's power) to issues advantageous to his new image, the national security Prime Minister who has been addressing Iraq-terrorism and Ukraine-MH17. Abbott appears to be now igniting a new public issue - Japanese built submarines saving taxpayer money versus the federal Labor, a Labor Premier and unions in South Australia.

The expectation of journalists that Japan will be chosen is also partially due to a visit of 16 Japanese submarine technicians to the Australian Submarine Corporation's (ASC) submarine and shipbuilding facility at Osborne (Adelaide, South Australia) on August 26, 2014. The reason for the visit was not explained, but may be the beginning of a study regarding ASC's ability to maintain the future submarines and/or ASC's ability to provide some components for the Soryu production line in Japan.

If the Japanese Government finalises the submarine deal this will be the first ever major arms export program for Japan. The export would be a major departure from the intent of Japan's peace constitution and a change in Japan's post-WWII ban on defence exports. As Japan has never built an immensely complex weapons system for a foreign navy the principle Soryu builders (Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries) will need to develop new regulatory, political and cultural processes. Kym Bergmann, wrote in ASPI "How would [the Australian crew training for the Soryu] be managed - not a trivial matter - especially as Japan has never before exported a submarine? Even providing manuals in English for the tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of individual pieces of equipment that make up a submarine would be a hellish job."

To give an idea of how and where Australian submarines may operate it is useful to mention places and ranges the government is unprepared to detail and that most journalists cannot get a handle on. There are major difference in the submerged range on diesel-snorkel between the Collins and the Soryu. For the Collins (figures are not on the diagram) submerged range is 17,000 km at 19 km/h. For the Soryu range it is 11,297 km at 12 km/h. Disregard the range figures in the diagram for the Collins as they are for surfaced operation, which is increasingly hazardous and unlikely given advances in the many types of anti-submarine sensors particularly Chinese satellites and UAVs. The contribution of Soryu's Stirling engine (air independent propulsion (AIP)) to range is unknown. Stirling engine range is classified and also depends on speed and amount of time (two weeks?) that a Soryu uses the Stirling. The Collins has no Stirling engine or other type of AIP.

It is assumed that an Australian Soryu would rely on its Stirling engine in areas of operation eg. loitering in/around littorals-closed waters. which amounts to a major mission capability that the Collins does not have. The Collins was built around the need for long range at comparatively high speed to transit the 3,000 km northward from the main submarine bases of HMAS Stirling, Garden Island, Rockingham, Western Australia and Sydney. The Collins would then have sufficient range to reach the presumably main operating areas up to 3,000-5,000 km to the north of Australia and then return all the way to Rockingham or Sydney. 

For an Australian Soryu - after the 3,000 km transit it could only continue north about 2,000 km without a refuelling stage. 

With its reduced range there is an increase in the likelihood that an Australian Soryu would need to be refuelled with diesel oil at:

- a northern Australian port (eg. Broome or Darwin (a port with many adverse water conditions);

- or from a submarine support ship/tender; or

- a foreign mid-point (Singapore? Guam? Diego Garcia) to perform longer range missions.

The act of such mid-point refuelling would increase an Australian Soryu's operational vulnerability to attack or disclosure of its position and intentions. Refuelling could be observed by an (especially Chinese) satellite or human agents in and around the refuelling port or on a refuelling tender. Refuelling port facilities may be very expensive to construct and maintain and strategically risky if there is reliance on foreign ports. Darwin and Broome also have a track record (in World War Two) of being much more vulnerable to air attack than ports in southern Australia (like HMAS Stirling).  

An Australian Soryu may be a poor choice if it is anticipated that it should travel similar distances to the Collins. The Soryu's range limitation may be less of a problem if Australia is altering its submarine use doctrine. For example long range would be less important if Australia has made (is making) some strategic agreement with Japan to divide mission responsibility between a Japanese northerly submarine patrol sector and Australia in the south (eg. with no Australian submarines needing to travel as far north as Taiwan). 

More comment on Australia's future submarine program:

My estimate for the number of future submarines specified is probably be 6 to 8 (6 first, then an option of 2 more - the number earlier set down for the Collins project) and less likely the 12 (set down in Australia's 2009 Defence White Paper section 8.39, page 64 (PDF 1.8 MB). Australia has had manpower problems in crewing even two Collins so crewing more than 8 Soryus seems unlikely.

Germany (TKMS-HDW) is probably a secondary choice. Australia may be hedging with the German alternative if the Japanese deal cannot be concluded or if a Japanese deal collapses mid project for political reasons. Germany has by far the most export experience in submarines but Germany's, like all European submarines, are much smaller than what Australia wants. Australia wants longer endurance (effectively a larger crew) and higher warload (many torpedos, missiles and mines) than can be fitted into a small design.  Germany has built the largest conventional submarine, at the nuclear missile carrying Israeli Dolphin class at 2,400 tonnes submerged, of any Western Eurpean country but the Dolphin meets far different mission requirements than the 4,200 tonne Soryu. Australia has bitter experience of the problems involved in attempting to scale up the Collins from a much smaller European submarine design. The Soryu also has a highly developed propulsion system (the Collins' main weakness) which is reputedly suited to such a large submarine. A major defence purchase from Germany also brings none of the regional strategic alliance benefits that purchase from Japan brings.

The Australian Government is expected to signal (in some way before the end of 2014) that Japan will build the submarines. Oddly the Government has not to date referred to any formal selection process e.g. a tender. Perhaps the government will announce a concrete decision in the next Defence White Paper due in 2015.



larsing said...

Dear Pete,I really wish Australia goes for the Soryu.By bringing in another supplier into the market it will hopefully bring down prices since the submarine market is dominated by a few countries.

Pete said...

Hi Larsing

Yes Japan (Mitsubshi-Kawasaki) entering the submarine market will result in two benefits of competition.

Competition will force down prices (as you say) especially those sub prices in high cost Germany, France and Sweden.

The technical alternatives and (probably) higher reliability of Japanese subs will also force other sellers to raise the reliability of their own subs.

Its early days yet though, with years of Japan-Australia talks needed to finalise the project.



A said...

Hi Pete,
I want to make some points regarding this.....
Australia basically wants to make colossal mistake & the decision to
go for the Soryu-class SSK is yet another one. What
Australian refuse to acknowledge is that while a SSK's
design can be imported, what cannot be imported are
the build-skills & engineering ethics. That's why a Soryu-
class SSK will be an excellent product when it is made-
in-Japan, but will be a horrible product when built in
Australia. That's precisely how the Collins-class SSKs got such a bad reputation. While there was nothing wrong
with its design from Kockums, everything went wrong
once Australia produced them in-country, since the hull
fabrication skills of the Australian shipyards were not upto the mark.

Pete said...

Hi A

I made it insufficiently clear that Australia should not attempt to build a Japanese or German design in Australia. Australia's future subs should be built in Japan or Germany respectively.

To that end the 2nd paragraph under PETE's COMMENT now reads:

"I support building the future submarines overseas rather than much more slowly and expensively re-inventing a submarine building industry in Australia. "



Anonymous said...

With a Australian Soryu-class Australia is going the same mistake as with Collins-class: an unexperienced company.

Kockums was not unexperienced building submarine but licensed building them. Japan never exported any submarine before.

Expect this:

Something about range:
Type 212 (1,800 t): 14,800 km
Type 214 (2,000 t): 19,000 km
Dolphin (2,400 t): ?
(Wiki says 14,800 km but that's the range for type 212. My range guess for Dolphin class: Haifa to Persian Gulf unrefueled via Cape of Good Hope)

Soryu class doesn't need much range.


Pete said...

Hi MHalblaub

Thanks for the sub ranges and the diagram.

Looking at Soryu's surfaced displacement at 2,900 tonnes its actually smaller than the Collins 3,100 tonnes.

I wonder why the big diffenece between Soryu's surfaced (2,900 tonnes) and submerged (4,200 tonnes) displacement?

When comparing the Collins and Soryu it seems to indicate the Soryu's larger crew and more torpedos/missiles/mines are there at the expence of extra fuel for longer range.

An HDW 216 is looking steadily better.