September 15, 2015

Australia expected to buy Only Eight future submarines

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (now sworn in) to date has had few views and little knowledge of defence issues. But he learns quickly. So his views and policies on future submarines are unpredictable (Photo courtesy Herald Sun)

Kevin Andrews, Defence Minister for 9 months. His submarine views very much depended on Abbott's views. Andrews may leave office by September 21, 2015, when a new ministry is likely to be announced.

Christopher Pyne may become next Defence Minister. He was considered an Abbott loyalist and has no real record on defence issues. Pyne is a Federal MP from Adelaide which may be his main qualification for Defence, with uncertain implications for submarine issues. (Photo courtesy Courier Mail).

It is becoming more certain that Australia now aims to buy only 8 submarines (not 12). Hence the upfront purchase price of $20 Billion is likely to drop to a lower amount. 

The official announcement of 8 submarines is expected to take place in the 2015 Defence White Paper that may be published in November this year (2015).

That 2015 White Paper has, to date, been drafted under an Abbott Government. It is unknown whether submarine numbers will change under the new Malcolm Turnbull Government. Unlike the outgoing Abbott Prime Minister Turnbull is expected to rely less on a defence power-base for his image. However Turnbull may rate highly the impact of submarine building on regional infrastructure development and therefore votes prior to Australia next election (perhaps in August 2016).

Turnbull may just continue Abbott's naval building policies or perhaps revise down submarine numbers to 6 (+ an option of 2 more, maybe).

News that the Australian Government wants 8 is unpopular with Australia's depressed shipbuilding industry (especially in Adelaide, Williamstown (Victoria) and Western Australia (mainly south of Perth)). Eight means less Government spending for the upfront price and downstream maintenance costs of the future submarines.

Australia’s likely decision to only build 8 submarines not 12 is due to:

-   the requirement for 12 submarines being uncosted and minimally justified in the 2009 White Paper (large PDF, see page 70, section 9.3) drawn up under the Rudd Government. 

-  the Australian government’s depleted revenue base. A major reason is less company tax from Australia's mining (especially iron), energy (especially coal) and manufacturing (car factories closing down) industries. The declining mining and energy industries are largely tied to Chinese demand (which is growing at a lower rate since the beginning of 2015).

-   the competing need for defence funding for Australia's growing commitment to fighting in the Middle East. This includes Syrian and Iraq air commitments and Iraq land commitments. 

-  the competition for naval funds for surface shipbuilding. This includes the Australian Government's intention, over the next 20 years, to build:

      =  9 x Future Frigates (which I estimate will weigh around 6,000 tons) under SEA 5000, and
      =  15-20 x "Corvettes" (which may average 1,500 tons) under SEA 1180 . 

The Corvettes (a term Abbott preferred) have also been called Offshore Patrol  Vessels (OPVs) and Offshore Combatant Vessel (OCVs). 

So a less defence minded Turnbull, further decline in Australia's revenue base and change in Defence Minister (the new one may be Christopher Pyne, a Federal MP for Adelaide) make submarine numbers unpredictable. But I think 8 or 6 future submarines is likely.


Historically the Australian Navy has asked for more submarines than it finally receives. As I advised in my On Line Opinion article Future submarine choices: more than a one horse race of December 11, 2014 I advised:

- for the UK built Oberon submarines (in RAN service 1967-1999) numbers for Australia shrank from 8 to 6

The Collins’ formula of 8 = 6 + (an option of 2 that were never ordered) may eventually be repeated for the future submarine.



MHalblaub said...

Dear Pete,

Why not buy 20 instead of just 8?
In my opinion any kind of 8 type 4,000 t submarines are more expensive and less effective than 20 Type 210mod.

weapons loads

Type 210: 14 / 8 tubes
Type 210mod: ~10(*) / 4 tubes + HMPL
Type 216: ~24(**) / 6 tubes + VMPL

(*) 6 reloads are visible in pictures by TKMS + 4 tubes loaded (Ula has 8 tubes)
(**) 10 reloads are visible in pictures by TKMS + 6 tubes loaded
Type 214 already has 12 reloads and 8 tubes so 24 are reasonable

The VMPL may be fitted with a inlay to launch Harpoon missiles like Virginia-class. So VMPL counts for 6 more weapons. HMPL according to size for 3.

total 21 inch weapons load
Type 210mod: 13
Type 216: 30

20 x 13 = 260
8 x 30 = 240
16 x 13 = 208
16 x 14 = 224 (Ula-class)

Crew size
Type 210mod: 15
Type 216: 33

20 x 15 = 300
8 x 33 = 264
16 x 15 = 240

The smaller submarine offers about the same weapons load for fare less money. Range is only a matter of basing. More submarines have a better strategic options and also tactical advantages. Height of a Type 210mod including sail is just 11 m! That's about the size of Soryu- or Virginia-class hull height.


Peter Coates said...

Hi MHalblaub

The trend towards larger submarines (eg. Germany moving from the small 206 to the medium sized 212) is due to several factors including:

- desire for more battery capacity and/or AIP to boost discretion against improved SeaWeb ASW sensors

- size to move dry deck shelters on sub's back at an adequate speed

- ability to carry weight of UUVs, LDUUVs, special forces, diver delivery vehicles and long range SLCMs

Australia has had trouble finding Captains for its 5 working subs. A Captain's (and other key members) skill can't be allowed to diminish with more numberous smaller subs. Do you think we could find/train up 20 captains?

Given a sub's main career function is peacetime intelligence collection ("reconnaissance") your weapon calculations may not be relevant. Australian subs had their last weapons firing (about 2 torpedos) in 1915.

33 crew for 216 on short-medium missions but numbers likely higher (60 bunks?) on longer missions.

Asia Pacific conditions require longer range, endurance and discretion aginst China - hence Japanese, S Korean, Singaporean and Chinese subs themselves are becomming larger.

Basing is a critical issue of extra cost and extra vulnerability to enemy fastjet and missile attack. Which is why even in WWII and now, most submarines missions were/are from bases south of Perth (not Darwin).

Instead of 210mod armed LDUUVs (even less height, less detectable mass) may be cheaper.



MHalblaub said...

Dear Pete,

the reason for the Type 212 were many among one was the need for an "working" technical demonstrator for fuel cells. The first contract to build the Type 212 was in 1994. Then the orders for the Type 214 followed around 2000.

Type 210 was around 1994 to small to integrate an AIP system. More discretion time could be reached by Lithium Ion Batteries (LIB) and Methanol based AIPs like PEM with methanol reformer or Direct Methanol Fuel Cells (DMFC).

For sure a bigger submarine will always offer more but is that necessary? From Guam to Hanoi it's about 2,500 nm and even less to Tianjin. So a small submarine with a range of just 8,000 nm is sufficient.

The submarines for Singapore had to be as large or bigger than the South Korean submarines. Singapore can't buy smaller submarines than South Korea. The only submarine available for South Korea with AIP was the Type 214.

The German Type VII submarine had a displacement of about 1,000 t. The Type XXI had a displacement of 1,600 t and was copied by many nations like the UK for Oberon-class. Germany also did built the not so famous Type XXIII submarine. A 250 t submarine for coastal war.

Kiel was just about 50 nm away from the next Warsaw Pact airport. Hiding submarines far away down down under is not the right choice. Even Garden Island is in the near future inside the range of Chinese bomber aircraft through the new runway China is building in the South Chinese Sea.

In case of an evolving conflict the submarines have to be at sea. Also many small bases makes it more difficult for an enemy to kill all at once. A concentration of a few big submarines at one location is an easy target. How successful were the Royal Navy's submarine operations out of down under?

The problem with all UUV is the missing possibility for direct control. UAVs are controlled via satellite links. The reason why submarines still can hide so well is water absorbs electro-magnetic fields very well. With very long range em-transmissions it is not possible to send a lot of information. Just a few bits per second.

You don't need big and fancy diver delivery vehicles because a small submarine can get far closer to the shore. The Type 210mod is the ideal control station for wire guided UUVs.

No, big submarine make just sense for ballistic missiles.


P.S: It might be easier for Australia to find captains for real submarines against the job of a commander for a group of plumbers.

Peter Coates said...

Hi MHalblaub [at September 17, 2015 at 8:15 PM]

Re your brief :) comments.

I would settle for a Dolphin 2/Type 218 2,000 ton (surfaced) sized sub.

35 + 10 diver/special forces

6 torpedo tubes

1 HMPL (with capacity for the Tomahawks or diver delivery vehicle or LDUUV)

+ capacity for 6 Tomahawk missiles. On top of 18 heavyweight shots

Ability to mount dry deck shelter – but still with adequate submerged speed/range

LIBs or (LIBs + AIP) sufficient for 3 weeks fully submerged at 6kn.

Range/diesel capacity sufficient Fremantle or Sydney (both beyond fast jets Chinese air base in East Timor range) to mid South China Sea (Guam if not already bombed) and return.

Why “Singapore can't buy smaller submarines than South Korea.”?

Yes if the Type XXI had a displacement of 1,600 t to handle the long range running that Australia needs. 1,600 t + AIP = 2,000 tons BTW :)

Darwin, Townsville, Cairns and Broome would each cost many $Billions of dredging and infrastructure to base subs of any size. Adequate submarine tenders (US and UK) weigh 10,000+ tons.

Australia relies on US SSNs to be at sea in case of conflict with main enemies China or Russia. US subs can also be based at Fleet Base West Rockingham not in the little-vulnerable northern ports.

Darwin and Broome too close to Indonesia to base submarines in conflict with Indonesia.

Hard to say how LDUUV will be modified for conflict operations.

You’ve taken me from 6 to 8 x 4,000 ton (surfaced) subs back to

12 SUBS but just 2,000 ton (surfaced) (Dolphin 2 or 3? Or 218AU submarines) and still bought from TKMS. Success!