April 8, 2016

Arrium - Pyne's Submarine Steel Claims Don't Stack Up

The MP from South Australia, Christopher Pyne, has made some hopeful, damage-control, claims regarding Arrium and Future Submarine submarine steel which seem to show a lot of ignorance.

Australia's ABC News Online, April 8, 2016 reported:

“While the Federal Government is not promising a bailout package, Mr Pyne strongly indicated this morning the company could get contracts linked to the next fleet of submarines.

"Because of the Government's commitment to the 12 subs, the nine frigates, the patrol vessels and so on, there will be a whole body of work coming through the pipeline," Mr Pyne told Channel 9.

An industry source told the ABC Arrium does not produce the type of steel needed to build submarines but said it could modify its operations or produce steel beams supporting the construction of the submarines….”


The steel plant at Whyalla, owned by Arrium, makes “long steel” products - mainly steel reinforcing bars and beams for homes and buildings. 

It is possible that Arrium could gear up to make the few hundred tonnes of steel beams needed in Australia's Future Submarine project. But this would only be needed in the mid 2020s based on the Turnbull Government's plans to delay the Future Submarines build until the late 2020s. For an Australian submarine build, first steel might only be cut in 2028.

The example of any Australian company making submarine steel overwhelmingly involves a fundamentally different type of product, that is flat steel for submarine hulls. 

The precedent of an Australian company producing submarine steel seems limited to Port Kembla-Wollongong based Bisalloy Steels Pty Ltd. This only involved Bisalloy making 8,000 tonnes of steel in the 1980s-1990s for the Collins submarine program. There was research and development involvement from BHP. 

Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) was also involved - see "High-strength steel and welds" here

It is unlikely an Australian steel maker could make submarine steel with economies of scale or have an export market for that steel. It is highly unlikely that the submarine contenders Japan, Germany or France would rely on Australia to be the sole/only source of submarine grade steel for the winning submarine type. Unsurprisingly Japan, Germany and France would value their own steel industries' ability to make highly strategic submarine steel.

Germany, France and Japan would probably be nervous about their key classified pressure hull steel technology finding its way to any foreign companies affiliated/associated with Australian steel companies. Germany, France and particularly Japan would worry about Chinese affiliated companies due to Western strategic distrust of China and economic competition with it.


Ztev Konrad said...

Titanium for the hull had the advantage it was non magnetic, but it seems that 'near stainless steel' can be made which is non magnetic. This type of construction is only useful in the baltic where the average depth is only 55m. It seems other navies which mostly operate in the worlds oceans dont require non magnetic hull steel
Of course major internal components are still magnetic , the hull being a fraction of the internal fitting, especially so for nuclear vessels with a reactor and steam turbines.
Could the shallower South China Sea mean this is worthwhile for Australia, no magnetic steel being a bit like stealth in that it can delay detection at longer ranges but not hide you completely.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Ztev

I re-read my article here http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/chinese-and-russian-submarine-pressure.html where it says not only Russia used Titanium in submarine pressure hulls but China.

The non-magnetic qualities of Titanium are an important quality but perhaps even more the extra strength.

See Previous Use of Titanium in Russian Submarines http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/previous-use-of-titanium-in-russian.html

The high cost of Titanium and difficulty in working/welding it seems to make it unpopular. Although China may be very secretive about any current use.

Australia is faced with use in shallow seas but also some of the deepest ocean areas.



Ztev Konrad said...

Thanks for adding those details. Yes Titanium is ideal with its non magnetic properties, but also good corrosion resistance would a big benefit, especially with double hulls.

You have covered Baltic operations before

This report talks about small Baltic submarines, where non magnetic is seen as defence against seabed mines

For coastal submarines developments in sonar derived from dolphins is mentioned here back in 2011

"Looking still further ahead, research at Southampton University has begun to challenge the relative security submarines currently enjoy in littoral waters, with the development of a system known as TWIPS - twin inverted pulse sonar - and based on the natural sonar of dolphins. Scientists there have shown that a dual stream of underwater pulses can penetrate bubbles more effectively than conventional sonar and provide a significantly better detection rate - at least under laboratory conditions. Although the work is still in its infancy, it could herald the end of easy invisibility for submarines amid turbulent coastal seas."

And acoustic cloaking here, which may behind the interest in small autonomous vessels

"His team have already successfully managed to demonstrate a functional acoustic cloak capable of hiding a submerged steel cylinder from a sonar sensor array in the laboratory. While doing the same for something the size of a Seawolf nuclear submarine may still be some years off, the implications are clear - and there may be more benefits to come. Researchers at the University of Texas are harnessing energised carbon nano-tubes to generate ultra-low frequency sound, offering the long term promise of a thin coating for subs that could provide noise-cancelling against incoming enemy pings, while additionally helping enhance the submarine's own sonar system."

Peter Coates said...

Hi Ztev [at 11/4/16 2:38 PM]

The source you cite http://www.naval-technology.com/features/feature121453 concerning "TWIPS - twin inverted pulse sonar" and "Nano-tech cloaking devices" is mighty interesting.

So many emerging technologies. Researchers realise navies often have large budgets to turn basic research into dual-use civilian-military applications.