March 28, 2023

If only Australia had Bought Subs Like Singapore

I thank retortPouch, whose March 28, 2023 comment inspired the article below. 

With its usual efficiency Singapore ordered 2 Invincible-class submarines from Germany’s TKMS  in 2013 and 2 in 2017. First of class RSS Invincible was launched in 2019 and commissioned in 2023. The second and third of class, RSS Impeccable and RSS Illustrious, were launched in Germany in December 2022. 

The Invincibles are seen as high quality general purpose diesel-electric submarines (SSKs) with AIP, permitting them to sit in or slowly patrol the Strait of Malacca for long periods. They have the speed and range to intercept other SSKs, like Chinese Songs and Yuans, that are passing through that strait or in the South China Sea. See an Invincible class model below.

A Singaporean Navy crew has been training on RSS Invincible in Germany and might sail it to Singapore in time for the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX) Asia that will take place next week, for 3 days from May 3-5, 2023 in Singapore.

RSS Invincible will replace one of the Singapore’s aging Challenger-class subs (probably RSS Conqueror (ex HSwMS Sjölejonet). Singapore will then temporarily have a submarine fleet of 3 classes, consisting of:

-  RSS Invincible 

-  2 x Archer-class subs (RSS Archer and RSS Swordsman), and 

-  1 x Challenger-class 

Note that the Archers and Challengers were second-hand, modernised Swedish submarines, built by what is now Saab-Kockums. In what was a curious decision then and now, Sweden’s Kockums was sold to a foreign competitor, what is now Germany's TKMS, in 1999. TKMS had sound commercial reasons to not permit Kockums to sell new submarines to Singapore in the 2010s. Instead TKMS won the Singaporean order in 2013 with German built Type 218SGs renamed the Invincible-class.

See numerous Submarine Matters articles on the Invincibles/218SGs here and here.

Between the efficiencies of a Singaporean customer and a German builder there has been none of the delays, hesitations and cancellations that bedevilled Australia’s home-build attempt, the 2016-2021 Shortfin Barracuda Attack-class fiasco. If Australia had bought TKMS Type 216s, built in Germany, the first may have been set to arrive in Australia in the late 2020s. 

But Australia always wants to home build its submarines, except for the Virginia-class SSNs. I feel Australia's Prime Minister Albanese has settled for an overseas built nuclear propelled submarine because he wants to kill off the Virginia plan. This is because the plan is too expensive and too divisive in Albanese's generally build-subs-in-Australia and anti-nuclear Labor Party, which is generally reliant on the staunchly anti-nuclear Greens Party.

Now the Labor supporting ACTU, again rising in power and opposed to all things nuclear, has also expressed opposition to Labor's Virginia and AUKUS-SSN policies.


Anonymous said...

Well, if all else fails, Australia could always go in with South Korea on nuke subs. :)

"South Korea’s longrunning nuclear submarine ambitions are more than hype, and there are signs
it may be inching to a conclusive decision on its acquisition plans."


Pete said...

Thanks Anonymous @Mar 30, 2023, 2:50:00 AM

For of June 6, 2022

South Korea (SK) going to the trouble of building SSNs or SSBNs looks like a huge expense with little net gain, because:

- its main threat, North Korea, is in easy range of SRBMs-MRBMs based on SKs landmass

- the diesel-electric KSS-III SSBs protected by SK SSKs are under construction and are specifically designed to carry (possibly nuclear tipped) SLCMs and MRBMs.

- China could place enormous economic and strategic pressure on SK to block or curtail any nuclear propelled sub plans. NK could threaten nuclear war to prevent SK SSBNs being built.

That last point would would make SK a high risk supplier (from the short to the long term) of nuclear propelled subs to Australia.

Also it normally takes 3 or 4 decades to build mature/quiet nuclear propelled subs - just look at China!

Regards Pete