Collins-class submarine replacement project
Identified as the most expensive defence procurement project to date in Australian history, the Collins-class replacement will provide Australia with a submarine capability deep into the twenty-first century. With the Royal Australian Navy's (RAN's) Collins-class submarines scheduled to begin leaving service from 2025 onwards, plans to replace them began in 2007 with the commencement of the defence acquisition project SEA 1000, also referred to as the Future Submarine Programme. Australia's unique operating environment (including significant variations in ocean climate and conditions) and rejection of nuclear propulsion had previously driven it to operate in the Collins-class the world's largest diesel-electric submarines, capable of transiting the long distances from HMAS Stirling to their deployment areas.
In the early phases of the replacement project, four design options were identified: purchase a Military-Off-The-Shelf (MOTS) design, modify a MOTS design for Australian conditions, design an evolution of the Collins-class, or create a new design. Nuclear propulsion has been ruled out due to the lack of an indigenous nuclear industry in Australia and public opposition to nuclear technology.
In 2009, the Australian Government's Defence White Paper announced that a class of twelve submarines would be built. The selected design was to be built in Australia at the ASC shipyard in South Australia, but, if a company other than ASC was selected to build the submarines, they would be granted access to the government-owned facility. Concept work was to start in 2009, with a winning design to be identified by 2013 and design work to be completed by 2016, enabling the construction of the first submarine to be completed before 2025. However, there were significant delays in implementing the project, with meetings to define intended capabilities not occurring until 2012, which pushed the start of construction beyond 2017.
By the end of 2014, operational capabilities had still not been defined, amidst increasing speculation that the Australian government would purchase Sōryū-class submarines directly from Japan, skipping any tendering processes and ignoring previous commitments to build the boats in Australia. However, in February 2015 the Abbott Government announced a "competitive evaluation process" between competing Japanese, French, and German designs, with a winning design to be announced before 2016.
Australian diesel-electric submarines operate in a wide range of geographic and oceanographic conditions, from the cold Southern Ocean to the tropics of the Coral, Arafura, and Timor Seas - requiring the submarines to handle significant variances in temperature, salinity, density, and climate. Australian submarines provide a deterrent towards military aggression against Australia, by patrolling the waters of Australia and nearby nations, and in addition, gather intelligence through the interception of electronic communications by foreign nations, and assist in the deployment and retrieval of special forces operatives. Because RAN submarines operate from a remote location at HMAS Stirling, and because some of Australia's strategic interests are located as far afield as the Persian Gulf and the North Pacific, Australian submarines have to transit long distances to reach some of their potential patrol areas. This requirement for range and endurance resulted in the 1980s Collins-class design incorporating a large fuel load, large engines and sufficient batteries to transit these long distances, although technological improvements since then have enabled smaller diesel-electric submarines such as the German Type 214 submarine and Dutch Walrus-class submarine to achieve similar range and endurance as the Collins-class. It has also been noted that the transit distances Australian submarines travel could be reduced by operating the submarines from HMAS Coonawarra in Darwin, rather than the more remote location of HMAS Stirling in Western Australia.
The Collins class were the first diesel-electric submarines specifically designed for Australian conditions of long transit distances and diverse sea states, and thus represent an 'orphan' design with no evolved design to replace them. The submarines were enlarged and heavily modified versions of Swedish shipbuilder Kockums' Västergötland class. Built during the 1990s and 2000s, the Collins-class submarines have a predicted operational life of around 30 years, with the lead boat HMAS Collins due to be decommissioned around 2025.
The Submarine Institute of Australia released a report in July 2007 arguing that planning for the next generation of Australian submarines had to begin soon if they were to be replaced by the 2020s. In December 2007, a month after coming into office following the 2007 federal election, Minister for Defence Joel Fitzgibbon announced that planning for the Collins class replacement (designated SEA 1000) had commenced. The SEA 1000 project office was established within the Defence Materiel Organisation in October 2008, and was being jointly administered with Defence's Capability Development Group. In February 2009, Rear Admiral Rowan Moffitt was appointed as project head.
2009 Defence White Paper
The 2009 Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030 white paper confirmed the replacement project, and announced that the submarine fleet would be increased to twelve vessels. Reasons for the increase presented in the white paper included the growing quantity and sophistication of Asian-Pacific naval forces (particularly submarine forces), the need to sustain submarine operations in any conflict, and the greater deterrent an increased submarine force would provide.
Originally, the planned timeline called for concept work to start in 2009, preliminary designs to be established between 2011 and 2013, then detailed design work completed in time for construction to start in 2016. This was to ensure that the new class would be in service before the Collins class began decommissioning in 2025. However, meetings between Moffitt and the National Security Committee to clarify concept details and intended capabilities, scheduled for November 2009, did not go ahead until March 2012. On 3 May 2012, the Australian government announced funding for the initial design phase. The initial phase would encompass studies to select the new submarines' design, Defence Science and Technology Organisation projects to establish parameters for propulsion, combat system, and stealth capabilities, along with initiating programs to develop the required industry skills for the actual construction. Under the 2012 revised timeline, the preliminary phase would conclude in 2013, with 'first pass approval' to be done by early 2014, and 'second pass approval' in 2017. The best case prediction for seeing the first new submarine enter service, made in 2012, was "after 2030". At least some of the slow pace and lack of decision making has been attributed to politicians fearing being held responsible for a repeat of the problems experienced by the Collins class during their construction and early career.
Speculation of a Sōryū class decision
Although the German Type 214 submarine has comparable range and endurance to the Collins-class, and superior range and endurance compared to the Sōryū-class, throughout 2014 there was increasing speculation that a Japanese design had been pre-selected as the Collins-class replacement, leading to public criticism that the Japanese submarines did not have the range or endurance that Australia required.
A September 2012 weapons technology swap deal and a July 2014 agreement on the sharing of defence technology were seen as preliminary steps towards Australian-Japanese collaboration on a submarine design, or towards integrating technologies like the Sōryū 's Kockums designed air-independent propulsion Stirling engines and research into incorporating the Japanese boats' hydrodynamic capabilities into a potential SEA 1000 design. Advantages in such a deal between the nations include the attention that securing the SEA 1000 project would bring to Japanese arms manufacturers (particularly after loosening of defence export restrictions in 2014), the provision of a proven high-end submarine design to the Australian military, and improved relations, both directly and as mutual allies of the United States of America. However, it has been noted that cooperation on such a major defence project would be high risk due to Japan's lack of previous arms export experience, and any deal could negatively impact on both nations' relations with China. The close personal relationship between Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has also been cited as a factor in the likeliness of such a deal, although with the caveat that a change in government in either nation would compromise any potential deal for construction, or the ongoing maintenance support of the submarines: the Australian Labor Party has a greater interest in supporting local shipbuilding than Abbott's Coalition government, while a souring of China-Japan relations is something the Democratic Party of Japan is less likely to risk than the Liberal Democratic government led by Abe.
By November 2014, initial capabilities had not been decided on, and recommendations were to be made across 2015. In December 2014, the Australian Coalition government ruled out using a tender process to identify a new submarine design, blaming the limited time left before the Collins-class were scheduled to begin leaving service. Although there was speculation at the time that the Australian government would purchase directly from Japanese shipbuilders, in January 2015, Defence Minister Kevin Andrews stated that the government was still considering the options offered by European shipbuilders: ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems of Germany, Saab of Sweden, and a partnership of the French companies Thales and DCNS.
2015 policy announcements
On 8 February 2015 the Abbott Government signalled that both the selection of a design and selection of construction options would be competitive, and on 9 February 2015 announced a "competitive evaluation process" with the possibility of construction in Australia. On 20 February 2015 the Australian Government publicly announced three key strategic considerations that would be taken into account in the competitive evaluation process, these being that the future submarines would have a similar range and endurance to the Collins class, superior sensor performance and stealth compared to the Collins class, and that the combat system and Mark 48 Mod 7 torpedo jointly developed between the United States and Australia would be the future submarines' preferred combat system and main weapon. The government also announced a three-way competition between ThyssenKrupp, the Thales-DCNS partnership and a Japanese design, while Saab was excluded. The process is expected to select the design for the submarine by the end of 2015. It was indicated that the number of submarines would likely be reduced to eight, with specifics to come in the defence white paper slated for later in 2015.
In the 2009 Defence white paper, the replacement submarines were outlined as a class of twelve vessels of up to 4,000 tons displacement, fitted with land-attack cruise missiles in addition to torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, capable of launching and recovering covert operatives while submerged, and carrying surveillance and intelligence-gathering equipment. The submarines would likely be fitted with the United States AN/BYG-1 combat system.
There were four possible routes for the SEA 1000 project to take, in order of increasing design complexity and risk:
- Buy a Military-Off-The-Shelf (MOTS) design without modification
- Develop a modified MOTS design to better suit Australian service conditions
- Design an evolution of the Collins-class
- Design an entirely new submarine
Designs initially considered for the various MOTS routes included the German-designed Type 214, Japan's Sōryū-class, the French-designed Scorpène class, the Spanish S-80 class, and an evolved Collins-class. The Spanish S-80 class was dropped from consideration due to serious design issues that had been noted in the public domain. An evolved Collins class design was also considered in 2013 but was officially dropped from consideration in 2015, due to it being assessed that the work required equated to composing a brand new design. In addition, Saab pushed an enlarged variant of its Swedish A26 submarine, but was excluded from further consideration in February 2015 due to Sweden having not designed and built a submarine independently for twenty years. Pure MOTS submarines were initially ruled out by the project in March 2011, but were put back on the table in December 2011.
Evolved designs of the Scorpène class have been offered, while ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, in additions to options for an evolved Type 214, has proposed the development of a brand new design, the Type 216, to specifically match Australian requirements.
ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems proposed building 12 of its Type 216 concept in Australia. Thales and DCNS offered its Ocean design (a diesel-electric variant of the Barracuda-class nuclear submarine under construction for the French Navy).
Deciding the future submarines' propulsion system is closely tied to determining its operational range, endurance and stealthiness. Two basic options are presented in submarine propulsion, nuclear propulsion, and conventional, diesel-electric propulsion. The option of nuclear propulsion effectively gives submarines an unlimited range and endurance, only restrained by maintenance and human crew requirements for resupply and rest, and removes the necessity for surfacing to recharge batteries, an unstealthy and risky process. Australian governments have repeatedly rejected the nuclear propulsion option due to the lack of an Australian nuclear power industry, (Australia would be the only non-nuclear nation to operate nuclear submarines), related issues of operational sovereignty were Australia to operate an American nuclear powered submarine such as the Virginia class, rendering it dependent on American technical support, and public opposition to nuclear technology.
The second alternative is to operate a conventional diesel-electric submarine with sufficient fuel and battery power to transit the large operational ranges required by Australia, and to provide maximum range, endurance and stealth (operating underwater), before having to resurface to snorkel and recharge batteries. Previously, this design brief led to the construction of a relatively large conventionally powered submarine, the Collins-class, possessing a large diesel electric engine, fuel load and sufficient batteries capable of transporting the submarines from their remote location at HMAS Stirling to their operational areas, without having to resurface for extended periods.
A further innovation in diesel electric propulsion which might be considered for the Collins-class replacement is Air Independent Propulsion, which is not operated in the existing Collins-class, but is operated in a number of more recent submarine designs including the German Type 214, Japanese Sōryū-class, and French Scorpène-class. Air independent propulsion performs the role of an auxiliary engine, providing submarines with increased stealth by allowing them to operate submerged for longer. The German Type 214 submarine employs advanced polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells that assist in delivering it comparable range and endurance to the Collins-class.
Batteries are an important component of diesel-electric submarines, allowing them to operate underwater for extended periods of time before having to resurface to recharge them. Improvements in battery technology in recent years have allowed smaller diesel-electric submarines to operate with greatly improved range and endurance. Future submarine designs might utilise improvements in Lithium-ion battery technology. The Collins-class replacement might operate battery technology superior to that of the existing Collins-class.
The Australian Government's announcement on 20 February 2015 that the future submarines will have a similar range and endurance to the Collins-class increases the possibility that an evolved MOTS or completely new design will be selected.
The 2009 Defence White Paper identified a land strike capability as an important addition to torpedo, mine and anti-ship missile weapons. In February 2015 the Australian Government identified its preference for the future submarines to have a US weapon system and heavyweight torpedo.
- Anti-ship missile
- Land attack cruise missile
Initially, the Australian government promised that the government-owned ASC, the company responsible for building the Collins class, would build the new submarines. In a May 2009 announcement about plans to release a request for tender, the Labor government indicated that if a company other than ASC was the successful tenderer, that company would be granted access to ASC's shipyard in Osborne, South Australia. Despite ongoing support for the submarines to be built in South Australia by successive Coalition and Labor governments, in July 2014, the Abbott-led Coalition government abandoned their pre-election commitment to ASC-based construction and opened up the likely possibility of building the submarines at a foreign shipyard. In February 2015 the Abbott Government in announcing a 'competitive evaluation process' noted that the government would not approach the submarine decision with an 'open cheque book', but would rather allow a competitive process in which various construction options would be explored, including construction in Australia, overseas, or a 'hybrid approach' of foreign and local construction, along with estimated costs and schedules.
Original plans for construction indicated a 25-year period from work starting to final completion. Because of the lengthy construction period, building the submarines in evolving 'batches' was under consideration; ongoing research and innovation would see updated equipment and designs incorporated into new submarines as built, then added to existing submarines during refits. The SEA 1000 submarines are predicted to remain in service until the 2070s.
When announced, the Collins replacement project was identified as the most expensive ever undertaken by the Australian Defence Force. In December 2010, an update to the 2009 Defence Capability Plan forecast the cost of the project as over A$10 billion. However, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has predicted that the new submarines will cost over A$36 billion to design and build, with construction of each submarine valued between A$1.4 and A$3.04 billion. Government predictions in 2014 estimated a total cost of up to A$80 billion for 12 Collins derivatives built by ASC, although ASC contests this with claims of a cost of A$18–24 billion.
An unspecified number of Sōryū-class submarines, built in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation was estimated at A$25 billion. European shipbuilder offers in 2014 were valued by the shipbuilders as costing around $A20 billion or otherwise being competitive with the Japanese valuation.
- 2009 Defence White Paper, p. 70.
- Nicholson & Wallace, Home-built submarines deemed too expensive, too risky
- Dennis et. al., The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, p. 138
- Woolner, Procuring Change, p. 7
- Coleman, More problems with Collins class submarines
- Stewart, Defence to reach new depths
- Kerr, Sea 1000
- ABC News, 4.6m for next generation submarine study
- Department of Defence, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century, pp. 70–1
- Future Force, in Australian Warship, p. 24
- Department of Defence, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century, pgs. 38, 64, 70–1
- Offices of the Prime Minister, Minister for Defence, and Minister for Defence Materiel, Next stage of future submarine project announced
- McDonald & Snow, Submarines no longer all at sea
- Hardy, After Collins: Australia's submarine replacement programme
- Kerr, Analysis: European yards face Soryu-shaped hurdle to replacing Collins class
- Kerr, Submarine chief: Canberra to get recommendations in next 12 months
- Owens, Joe Hockey rules out open tender for new submarines
- Scott & Reynolds, Australia gingerly mulls Japanese submarine offer
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Defence Minister promises 'conservative' approach to submarines following tour of ASC
- Department of Defence, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century, p. 81
- 2009 Defence White Paper, p. 70.
- Owen & Akerman, Labor reneges on submarine promise to builder ASC
- Pultarova, Australia seeks partners to build next-generation submarines
- McGuire & Shepherd, Defence Minister David Johnston won’t rule out dumping plans to build submarines in Adelaide
- "Strategic Direction of the Future Submarine Programme" (Press release). Office of the Hon Kevin Andrews MP. 20 February 2015. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Nicholson, New subs to be built in Adelaide whatever the pick
- Scott, Horns of a dilemma
- Nicholson, Sub fleet carries $36b price tag: experts
- Kerr, Australia publishes second update to capability plan
- Kerr, Australia tests the water for its largest-ever defence procurement challenge
- Wroe, Australian-made submarines substantially cheaper than government suggests
- Jennett, German shipbuilders ThyssenKrupp convinced they remain in race for Australian submarine contract
- Dennis, Peter; Grey, Jeffrey; Morris, Ewan; Prior, Robin (2008). The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (2nd ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195517842. OCLC 271822831.
- Kelton, Maryanne (2008). More than an ally?: contemporary Australia-US relations. Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate. ISBN 0-7546-7367-7. OCLC 181424108.
- Journal articles
- "Future Force: Australia's 21st century navy". Australian Warship (50): 24–31.
- Hardy, James (23 October 2014). "After Collins: Australia's submarine replacement programme". IHS Jane's Navy International. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
- Kerr, Julian (7 December 2009). "Australia tests the water for its largest-ever defence procurement challenge". Jane's Navy International (Jane's Information Group).
- Kerr, Julian (22 December 2010). "Australia publishes second update to capability plan". Jane's Defence Weekly (Jane's Information Group).
- Kerr, Julian (12 January 2012). "Wave of the future". Jane's Defence Weekly (Jane's Information Group).
- Kerr, Julian (13 April 2012). "Sea 1000: Australia's Future Submarine is slow to surface". Jane's Navy International (Jane's Information Group).
- Kerr, Julian (22 October 2014). "Analysis: European yards face Soryu-shaped hurdle to replacing Collins class". IHS Jane's Navy International. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
- Kerr, Julian (13 November 2014). "Submarine chief: Canberra to get recommendations in next 12 months". IHS Jane's Navy International. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
- Pultarova, Tereza (28 July 2014). "Australia seeks partners to build next-generation submarines". Engineering and Technology Magazine (London: The Institution of Engineering and Technology). Retrieved 3 January 2015.
- Scott, Richard (14 January 2010). "Horns of a dilemma: Project SEA 1000 seeks to balance technology and risk". International Defence Review (Jane's Information Group).
- Woolner, Derek (18 September 2001). "Procuring Change: How Kockums was Selected for the Collins Class Submarine". Research Paper (Canberra: Department of the Parliamentary Library). 2001–02 (4). ISSN 1328-7478. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
- News articles
- "New subs unlikely to go nuclear: ADA". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 16 December 2007. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
- "4.6m for next generation submarine study". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 17 October 2008. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
- "Defence Minister promises 'conservative' approach to submarines following tour of ASC". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 22 January 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
- Coleman, Matt (10 May 2000). "More problems with Collins class submarines" (Transcript). PM (ABC Radio). Retrieved 19 August 2009.
- Fowler, Andrew (25 February 2003). "Are leaky Collins class subs all washed up?". The 7:30 Report (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 2 September 2009.
- Jennett, Greg (17 December 2014). "German shipbuilders ThyssenKrupp convinced they remain in race for Australian submarine contract". ABC News. Retrieved 5 January 2015.
- "Submarine program: Japan, France, Germany to compete for build process; Government promises hundreds of local jobs". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 20 February 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
- Keck, Zachary (8 July 2014). "Australia and Japan to Ink Submarine Deal". thediplomat.com (The Diplomat). Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- LaGrone, Sam (7 July 2014). "Japan and Australia to Cooperate on New Submarine Design". news.usni.org (U.S. Naval Institute). Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- McDonald, Hamish; Snow, Deborah (9 July 2012). "Submarines no longer all at sea". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
- McGuire, Michael; Shepherd, Tony (28 August 2014). "Defence Minister David Johnston won’t rule out dumping plans to build submarines in Adelaide". The Advertiser. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
- Nicholson, Brendan (30 October 2009). "Sub fleet carries $36b price tag: experts". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 October 2009.
- Nicholson, Brendan (28 January 2010). "New subs to be built in Adelaide whatever the pick". The Australian. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
- Nicholson, Brendan; Wallace, Rick (9 September 2014). "Home-built submarines deemed too expensive, too risky". The Australian. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
- Nicholson, Brendan (19 November 2014). "Choice of navy's new submarine is a $20bn guessing game". The Australian. Retrieved 5 January 2015.
- Owen, Michael; Akerman, Pia (5 May 2009). "Labor reneges on submarine promise to builder ASC". The Australian. Retrieved 5 May 2009.
- Owens, Jared (2 December 2014). "Joe Hockey rules out open tender for new submarines". The Australian. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
- Scott, Jason; Reynolds, Isabel (19 December 2014). "Australia gingerly mulls Japanese submarine offer". The Japan Times. Retrieved 5 January 2015.
- Stewart, Cameron (29 December 2007). "Defence to reach new depths". The Australian. Retrieved 25 April 2009.
- Taylor, Rob (2 December 2014). "Japan Gains Edge in Australia Submarine Deal". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 5 January 2015.
- Wallace, Rick (27 September 2012). "Japan tech deal could help power our subs" (behind paywall). The Australian. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
- Wroe, David (20 November 2014). "Australian-made submarines substantially cheaper than government suggests". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
- Press releases and reports
- Department of Defence (2 May 2009). Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030. Commonwealth of Australia. ISBN 978-0-642-29702-0. OCLC 426475923.
- "Next stage of future submarine project announced" (Press release). Offices of the Prime Minister, Minister for Defence, and Minister for Defence Materiel. 3 May 2012. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
- "SEA1000 Australia's New Submarines". Department of Defence.