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Australia confirms objective for 12 strong Submarine Fleet, rules out off-the-shelf options

Naval Forces News - Australia
Australia confirms objective for 12 strong Submarine Fleet, rules out off-the-shelf options
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Minister for Defence Stephen Smith and Minister for Defence Materiel Mike Kelly today announced further steps the Government has taken to progress the Future Submarine Program. The 2013 Australian Defence White Paper confirms the Government’s commitment to replacing the existing Collins Class fleet with an expanded fleet of 12 conventional submarines to be assembled in South Australia, but it rules out any submarine design available off-the-shelf.
Australian Defence officials have revealed that at least two possible contenders for the navy's new submarine fleet, the Spanish S-80 and French Scorpene class boat, have been ruled out of the future submarine project.
Collins class submarine
(Picture: US Navy)

The Future Submarine project will be the largest and most complex Defence project ever undertaken by Australia. It is a capability design, construction and sustainment challenge of unprecedented scale and complexity, and will span decades.

The 2009 Defence White Paper outlined the Government’s commitment to acquire 12 new Future Submarines to be assembled in South Australia.

In May 2012, the Prime Minister and Minister for Defence announced the Government would provide $214 million for the next stage of the Future Submarine Program for detailed studies and analysis to inform the Government’s decision on the design of Australia’s next submarine. This funds design, modelling, analysis and technology studies to examine in detail options for the future submarine capability.

At the same time, the Government announced it was considering four broad options for the Future Submarines:

• an existing submarine design available off-the-shelf, modified only to meet Australia’s regulatory requirements;
• an existing off-the-shelf design modified to incorporate Australia’s specific requirements, including in relation to combat systems and weapons;
• an evolved design that enhances the capabilities of existing off-the-shelf designs, including the Collins Class; and
• an entirely new developmental submarine.

The Government has now taken the important decision to suspend further investigation of the two Future Submarine options based on military-off-the-shelf designs in favour of focusing resources on progressing an ‘evolved Collins’ and new design options that are likely to best meet Australia’s future strategic and capability requirements.

The Government has also taken the important decision to use the United States AN/BYG-1 combat system as the reference system for future design work. The early definition of a combat system is a feature of a successful submarine program. It allows the submarine design to proceed utilising more accurate projections of space, weight and power requirements.

The Government has also directed further work on a new Submarine Propulsion Energy Support and Integration Facility in Adelaide. This land-based facility will substantially reduce risk in the Future Submarine Program by providing the capability to research, integrate, assemble and test the propulsion and energy systems of the Future Submarine. Elements of the facility will also be located in Western Australia (where Navy will have easy access for training purposes) and Victoria (where DSTO maritime specialists are based).

The implementation of the project will require a sustained and coordinated national effort harnessing the knowledge, skills, expertise and lessons-learned over the last 50 years of Australian submarine ownership. The success of the project will depend critically on close collaboration with Commonwealth and State Agencies and strategic partners, along with Australian industrial capacity. In particular, the Government will continue close cooperation with the United States on developing undersea warfare capabilities.

The sustainment of the Collins Class submarine fleet is an essential part of Australia’s submarine capability. It is a complex task that has proven very challenging since the first Collins Class submarine, HMAS Collins, was commissioned in July 1996. The sixth and last of the Collins Class, HMAS Rankin, was commissioned in March 2003. The Collins Class was designed with a theoretical platform life of 28 years, which provides for an on paper indicative service life for the fleet of 2024 to 2031.

A Service Life Evaluation Program was undertaken by Defence in 2012 to identify any issues that would prevent the Collins Class from achieving their indicative service life. The study also considered the possibility of a service life extension for the Collins fleet.

The study found there is no single technical issue that would fundamentally prevent the Collins Class submarines from achieving their indicative service life or a service life extension of one operating cycle for the fleet, which is currently around seven years, excluding docking periods.

Guided by outcomes of the Study into the Business of Sustaining Australia’s Strategic Collins Class Submarine Capability, led by Mr John Coles, an extensive transformation program is being implemented.

Availability improvements are being achieved through a variety of mechanisms including the delivery of more efficient logistic support arrangements, implementation of performance based maintenance contracts with defence industry, and development of a revised approach to the programming of planned maintenance and usage.

This will increase the availability and reliability of the Collins Class and ensure that the Collins fleet will remain a viable submarine capability until replaced by the Future Submarine.