January 21, 2021

Unlikely Australia Wants to End French Submarine Deal

In response to Nicky and David Candy regarding End French Sub Deal and Sweden's latest float of a "Collins II" future submarine concept for Australia idea.

Below concerns the French-Australian program to design, build and operate 12 future large "Attack-class" conventional, diesel-electric submarines for the Australian Navy.

It is far too early to say and probably unlikely that "Australia [is] Reportedly LookingAt An Alternative To Its Costly New French-DesignedSubmarines". 

I could write a book in response, but I note: 

The breach of contract penalties exacted by France on Australia might amount to A$500 million. Also the Australian Government most probably does not want to be involved in  Submarine Controversy. That is after past Australian governments suffered embarrassment over the original Collins "I" Project and PR fiasco, in the 1990s - early 2000s. 

Sweden's submarine makers have had a long term "buy Collins II" campaign in the Australian press, but this has been less than convincing. By 2014 when Australia's DoD were finalising their future submarine shortlist (down to France, Germany and Japan) Sweden's submarine industry was still in disarray.

In 1999 main Swedish submarine builder, Kockums, had actually been sold to Germany. Germany had made sure Kockums couldn't sell submarines - including to regular Kockums' customer Singapore. Sweden/Saab legally battled to buy Kockums back in 2014.

As at 2014 Sweden had not built a complete submarine for 18 years. Even today Saab-Kockums has not completed its only order - 2 submarines for the Swedish Navy. Back to 2014, Sweden was asking/hoping Australia would make the very large financial risk of buying 12 new submarines designed by Sweden. In the end Australia made the prudent decision of shortlisting fully active submarine builders Germany, Japan and France in 2014. 

Counter-intuitively France won because it offered the Highest Bid in what was really a 2016 Election winning Australian Federal Government multi-Billion dollar subsidy/promise to the key swing state of South Australia. Osborne, Adelaide, South Australia being the shipyard that will build the 12 future French designed subs.

At a rather secret level Australia most probably also opted for France as the extra $Billions to France are a down payment on possible long term future SSNs, SSBNs and even nuclear weapons from France. Germany, Japan and Sweden have no experience building nuclear subs or nuclear weapons and are less "nuclear-for-money" than France. France having designed a future SSN for Brazil (SN-BR). France having built a nuclear weapons Plutonium producing reactor/plant and Jericho ballistic missiles for Israel in the 1950s-60s.  

On a current level the Australian Government has regularly voiced its displeasure with missed milestones and cost over-runs in France's Naval Group building Australia's future submarines. French Government owned Naval Group is distracted and late in France's Barracuda SSN and future SSBN projects. Those nuclear sub projects are higher priority for France than the conventional future sub for Australia program.  

Also how much the Australian and French Governments have spent on their domestic COVID budgets comes into it. Australia wants to deter French Government owned Naval Group from seeing the Australia future submarine program as a revenue raising opportunity to cross subsidize France's higher than expected domestic COVID-19 costs.

Returning to Saab-Kockums. Sweden wants to sell 4 Collins II-like future subs to the Netherlands. Sweden again floating a "Collins II" to Australia may give the Netherlands  hope that much design work and price reductions have been already achieved by Sweden in possible future subs for the Netherlands.

So Australia will probably always stick with Naval Group even though the Australian Governments puts on hard bargaining acts from time to time

to legitimise the Attack class' huge costs.


David Candy said...

Maybe they are cutting their losses? Submarine equipment contract failure costs millions in compensation, rescuers left with old gear from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-01-21/defence-submarine-contract-cancelled-phoenix/13078130

Lee McCurtayne said...

As for the Shortfin Barracudda, are we getting “Regional Superiority” ???. How c@n anyone deem a conventional submarine, with not even AIP factored into the equation be deemed “Superior”?. Then to be absolutely certain it’s not “Superior “ the Shortfin will get “Lead Acid” batteries configured so the submarine can’t really be rebalanced with LI downstream.
Frankly the SB is barely a current generation “Collins” with better sensors, hopefully. If that is right would’ve just building upgraded Collins at a vastly cheaper build been better. Surely with the expertise of the ASC and SAAB we could have had the A26ER phased into the Collins 2 build along with everything the A26 can do better that “SB”
Once again can anyone tell me really what are we getting for our money really, except million of dollars on mods.

David Candy said...

A sub delivered in my lifetime is worth 12 when I'm dead.

Petra for Pete's SMI Network said...

Hi David Candy

Yes, anything to do with submarines is highly complex, shrouded in secrecy, contains hidden agendas and is always expensive, even when things go right.

The way things are going I'd say the first future Aussie Attack-class submarine will be commissioned in 2035. By which time I'll be 74, maybe knocking on heaven's door.



Petra for Pete's SMI Network said...

Hi Lee McCurtayne

“Regionally Superior” is a poor political slogan, unsupported by technical realities. As you say this is especially considering Australian only has lead-acid batteries slated for our future Attack-class subs. Naval Group has not provided much help as it has not demonstrably shown itself a leading innovator in battery or the latest operational AIP technology.

Conventional subs superior to our future subs include:

- Japan’s Taigei-class because it has Lithium-ion Batteries (LIBs). It is at the northern end of our region https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taigei-class_submarine


- Italy’s future Type 212 NFS which will have top class fuelt cell AIP AND LIBs. 212 NFS will viisit the Indian Ocean occasionally. Such visits would be in our Indo-Pacific Region. https://gentleseas.blogspot.com/2020/12/italy-to-build-4-type-u212-nfs-long.html

The Collins “I’s” program Deficiencies and political Embarrassment it aroused for Australian Government are 2 major arguments why Australia’s has not been enthusiastic about repeating the process with a “Collins II”.

Anonymous said...

AIP is of limited use on long range submarines. It only allows relatively slow speeds, which in some places will not even allow the submarine to stay stationary (if the current is stronger than the AIP speed). If you tend to operate in areas where this is not a problem, then it is a definite option. SSK’s generally tend to be ambush hunters. If you can easily get to a chokepoint that doesn’t have a strong current, you can hang around for weeks using AIP waiting for a target or gathering intel. The distance from Perth to Singapore is the same as the East-West length of the Mediterranean. You need as many batteries as you can get to maximise the distance & speed. Being able to stay submerged for 3 weeks doesn’t help if you still haven’t got to where you are going.

Li batteries for submarines are new & have a tendency to catch fire. Significant R&D is going into how to mitigate the fire problem. Li is not a single technology. Various companies are working on different chemical formula Li batteries. Japan is the only nation to currently field a Li based submarine. However, Li is not the only technology out there. Australia’s submarine battery specialist (PMB), are working on Lii & Nickel-Zinc as well as updated traditional Lead-Acid batteries. PMB are highly regarded worldwide, contracted to supply replacement batteries for Canadian submarines & is supplying battery systems for SAAB’s new A26 submarines as well as R&D on new battery modules for UK Astute SSN’s. I would not be surprised if the Attack class skips Li altogether.

Petra for Pete's SMI Network said...

Hi Anonymous [at January 26, 2021 at 4:27 PM]

Very true. A sub using its AIP at optimal 2 to 4 knots into currents (in open sea or straits) may move backwards.

Also for long range/duration missions (say 70 days) an AIP's heavy liquid oxygen LOx tank (say 100 tons) represents dead weight and unused space, most of the time.

Dead weight/space AIP-LOx is what Japan reported for even their mid range missions on their Soryu Mark Is. Also consumption or movement of the LOx causes significant buoyancy shifts to the distraction of those who have to adjust buoyancy.

So long range missions may demand the greatest battery capability – an issue Australia still seems conservative about – in terms of opting for Lead-acid batteries (LABs).

Maybe Australia’s first tranche of 4 x Attack-class subs may use LABs.

The next 4 (build starting 2032?) may use the “Lii & Nickel-Zinc” you speak of. Aren’t they an advanced type of Lithium-ion Battery (LIB).

I would venture Australia 3rd tranche will be 4 x Barracuda SSNs to be truly “Regionally Superior”

So PMB are working on a stable-safe battery that is “Lii & Nickel-Zinc” an advanced type of LIB ? I’m no expert to judge chemical balance and good future operational performance of a battery.

Good luck to PMB in their sales to Canada’s Victoria-class, backup batteries on UK Astute SSNs and SAAB’s A26s. Who knows PMB batteries may go indirectly to the Netherlands if the Dutch choose the Collins II – A26s :)