Collins-class submarine replacement project

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Planning to replace the Royal Australian Navy's (RAN's) Collins-class submarines began in 2007 with the commencement of defence acquisition project SEA 1000. The six Collins-class boats are due to leave service from 2025 onwards. The resulting vessel is tentatively identified displacing around 4,000 tons, will be equipped with land-attack cruise missiles in addition to torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, and needs to be capable of performing surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations (both directly and through the delivery and recovery of covert operatives).

Original plans for new submarines called for a class of twelve boats. There were four design options: buy a Military-Off-The-Shelf (MOTS) design, modify a MOTS design for Australian conditions, design an evolution of an existing submarine, or design a new submarine from scratch. Nuclear propulsion has been ruled out by the Australian government due to lack of supporting infrastructure and public opposition to nuclear technology. The selected design was to be built in Australia at the ASC shipyard in South Australia: 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 design identified by 2013, design work completed by 2016, and construction completed before 2025.

However, there have been ongoing delays with implementing the project. Meetings to define intended capabilities did not occur until 2012, pushing the start of construction past 2017. By the end of 2014, operational capabilities had not been defined, with plans to do so during 2015. Throughout 2014, there was increasing speculation that the Australian government would purchase Sōryū-class submarines from Japan, skipping any tendering processes and ignoring previous commitments to build the boats in Australia. This prompted a series of unsolicited offers from European submarine builders. As of January 2015, no official decision has been made on the replacement submarines.


Australian submarines function in conditions not found elsewhere in the world. The variety of the geographic and oceanographic environment of Australia - from the cold Southern Ocean to the tropics of the Coral, Arafura, and Timor Seas - means that submarines have to handle variances in temperature, salinity, density, and climate.[1] Operationally, the Australian submarine' primary missions are patrolling the waters of Australia and nearby nations, and gathering intelligence through the interception of electronic communications by foreign nations and the deployment/retrieval of special forces operatives.[2][1] Because the RAN operates in both the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and has strategic interests as far afield as the Persian Gulf and the North Pacific, Australian submarines need to transit long distances to potential patrol areas.[1][3] Diesel-electric submarines require powerful engines for high sustainable speeds transiting between a patrol area and home (minimising deployment time not spent on patrol) and a large battery capacity for low speed operations (maximising the time before the boat needs to back off and use the snorkel to recharge).[1][4] Because of the great distances to patrol areas and long periods of time spent on deployment, Australian submarines must carry large quantities of fuel and consumables.[5] A large torpedo and missile capacity is also necessary, reducing the need for the boats to return home to reload.[5] Consequently, a large hull is required.[1]

The Collins-class submarine HMAS Rankin. The SEA 1000 project will replace the six Collins-class boats.

The Collins class was the first submarine class designed specifically for Australian conditions. The submarines were enlarged and heavily modified versions of Swedish shipbuilder Kockums' Västergötland class.[3][6] Built during the 1990s and 2000s, the Collins-class submarines have a predicted operational life of around 30 years, with lead boat HMAS Collins due to decommission around 2025.[7][8]

Project history[edit]

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.[8] 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.[8] The SEA 1000 project office was established within the Defence Materiel Organisation in October 2008, and is being jointly administered with Defence's Capability Development Group.[9][10] In February 2009, Rear Admiral Rowan Moffitt was appointed as project head.[9]

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.[11][12] 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.[13]

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.[9] This was to ensure that the new class would be in service before the Collins class began decommissioning in 2025.[9] 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.[9] On 3 May 2012, the Australian government announced funding for the initial design phase.[14] 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.[14] 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.[14] However, by November 2014, initial capabilities had not been decided on, and recommendations were to be made across 2015.[15]

In December 2014, the Australian Coalition government ruled out using an open tender process to identify a new submarine design, blaming the limited time before the Collins class leaves service.[16] Although there was speculation at the time that the Australian government would purchase directly from Japanese shipbuilders,[17][18] in January 2015, Defence Minister Kevin Andrews stated that the government was still considering the options offered by European shipbuilders.[19]

The best case prediction for seeing the first new submarine enter service, made in 2012, was "after 2030".[9] 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.[20] As of January 2015, there has been no official specification of a replacement for the Collins class,[21] although a decision is expected by March.[22]

Possible designs[edit]

In the 2009 Defence white paper, the replacement submarines had been outlined as a class of twelve 4,000-ton vessels, 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.[12][23][24] It is likely that the submarines will be fitted with the United States AN/BYG-1 combat system.[25]

There were four possible routes for the SEA 1000 project to take, in order of increasing complexity and risk:[9][14]

  • Buy a Military-Off-The-Shelf (MOTS) design without modification
  • Buy a MOTS design, but modify it for Australian service conditions
  • Design an evolution of an existing submarine
  • Design an entirely new submarine
The Royal Malaysian Navy Scorpène-class submarine KD Tunku Abdul Rahman. The French-Spanish designed Scorpène class was one of the options under consideration for the replacement program.

Designs originally considered for the two MOTS routes included the Spanish S-80 class, the French-designed Scorpène class, the German-designed Type 214, and Japan's Sōryū class.[9] Scaled-up proposals of the S-80 and Scorpène classes, as well as the Type 216 (an enlarged version of the Type 214) were offered by the respective designs' parent companies as the basis for an evolution design.[9] An updated version of the Collins class design was also being looked at: the original submarine was designed for the RAN's unique operating environment, and replacing or fixing the issues that affected the original submarines while updating equipment and systems would result in a design that meets the white paper requirements.[9] SEA 1000 will most likely follow the 'modified MOTS' or 'evolution' path.[9] No existing MOTS submarine design meets the RAN's desired capabilities, or would successfully operate in the warm seas and huge transit distances of Australian service.[9][25][26] MOTS submarines were initially ruled out by the project in March 2011, but were put back on the table in December 2011.[27] At the other end of the scale, designing a submarine from first principles is considered incredibly risky.[9][25]

The Sōryū-class submarine Japanese submarine Unryū in 2014. The Japanese submarines have been widely speculated as the forerunner for the replacement project.

Throughout 2014, there was increasing speculation that the Sōryū class (or a derivative) was the most likely candidate for the replacement.[17][28][5] A September 2012 weapons technology swap deal and a July 2014 agreement on the sharing of defence technology were seen as preliminary steps towards collaboration on a submarine design, or towards integrating technologies like the Sōryū '​s air-independent propulsion and research on the Japanese boats' hydrodynamic capabilities into a potential SEA 1000 design.[29][30][31] 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.[32] However, Japan's first arms export being of such complex and classified technology is considered risky, and any deal could negatively impact on both nations' relations with China.[32][22] 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.[32][18][17] Although meeting most of the characteristics for a possible replacement boat, the Sōryūs have half the range of the Collins class; this could be countered by relocating the submarine base from HMAS Stirling in Western Australia to HMAS Coonawarra in Darwin or another facility in northern Australia.[18]

In response to the rumours of the Japanese deal, Germany, Sweden, and France made unsolicited submissions of potential designs.[22] ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems have proposed building 12 of its Type 216 concept in Australia.[18][17] Thales and DCNS offered its Ocean design (a diesel-electric variant of the Barracuda-class nuclear submarine under construction for the French Navy), with DCNS opening an Australian division to facilitate any further activity.[28][33] Saab is pushing an enlarged variant of its A26 submarine proposed for the Swedish Navy.[5]

The Australian government has rejected nuclear propulsion.[9] Reasons for the rejection include the lack of a nuclear power industry and the related infrastructure and regulatory guidelines (Australia would be the only non-nuclear nation to operate nuclear submarines), as well as public opposition to nuclear technology.[25][9][34] Defence commentators have suggested that the United States Navy's Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines would fit the outline given in the 2009 white paper.[9] Opponents to Australian nuclear submarines have noted that even though the Virginias meet the broad physical characteristics outlined in the white paper, nuclear submarines of that type are not as well suited to the intelligence operations that Australian submarines are typically deployed on.[20]


The ASC shipyard in Osborne, South Australia. The original intention was to build the new submarines at this government-owned shipyard, even if ASC was not the successful tenderer.

Initially, the Australian government promised that the government-owned ASC, the company responsible for building the Collins class, would build the new submarines.[35] 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.[35] 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.[36][37] The increasing speculation of acquiring Japanese-designed submarines has included predictions that they will be built in Japan as well.[18] There are also concerns that ASC does not have the skill to design and build such complex submarines, particularly in the shortening timeframe before the Collins class begins rotating out of service.[32]

Original plans for construction indicated a 25-year period from work starting to final completion.[38] 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.[26] The SEA 1000 submarines are predicted to remain in service until the 2070s.[38]


When announced, the Collins replacement project was identified as the most expensive ever undertaken by the Australian Defence Force.[23] In December 2010, an update to the 2009 Defence Capability Plan forecast the cost of the project as over A$10 billion.[39] 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.[23][25] 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.[18][33]

An unspecified number of Sōryū-class submarines, built in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation was estimated at A$25 billion.[18][33] European shipbuilder offers in 2014 were valued by the shipbuilders as costing around $A20 billion or otherwise being competitive with the Japanese valuation.[18][40]


  1. ^ a b c d e Kelton, More Than an Ally?, p. 105
  2. ^ Fowler, Are leaky Collins class subs all washed up?
  3. ^ a b Dennis et. al., The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, p. 138
  4. ^ Woolner, Procuring Change, pp. 15-16
  5. ^ a b c d Nicholson, Choice of navy's new submarine is a $20bn guessing game
  6. ^ Woolner, Procuring Change, p. 7
  7. ^ Coleman, More problems with Collins class submarines
  8. ^ a b c Stewart, Defence to reach new depths
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Kerr, Sea 1000
  10. ^ ABC News, 4.6m for next generation submarine study
  11. ^ Department of Defence, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century, pp. 70–1
  12. ^ a b Future Force, in Australian Warship, p. 24
  13. ^ Department of Defence, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century, pgs. 38, 64, 70–1
  14. ^ a b c d Offices of the Prime Minister, Minister for Defence, and Minister for Defence Materiel, Next stage of future submarine project announced
  15. ^ Kerr, Submarine chief: Canberra to get recommendations in next 12 months
  16. ^ Owens, Joe Hockey rules out open tender for new submarines
  17. ^ a b c d Kerr, Analysis: European yards face Soryu-shaped hurdle to replacing Collins class
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h Nicholson & Wallace, Home-built submarines deemed too expensive, too risky
  19. ^ Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Defence Minister promises 'conservative' approach to submarines following tour of ASC
  20. ^ a b McDonald & Snow, Submarines no longer all at sea
  21. ^ Defence Materiel Organisation, Future Submarine Acquisition
  22. ^ a b c Scott & Reynolds, Australia gingerly mulls Japanese submarine offer
  23. ^ a b c Nicholson, Sub fleet carries $36b price tag: experts
  24. ^ Department of Defence, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century, p. 81
  25. ^ a b c d e Kerr, Australia tests the water for its largest-ever defence procurement challenge
  26. ^ a b Scott, Horns of a dilemma
  27. ^ Kerr, Wave of the future
  28. ^ a b Taylor, Japan Gains Edge in Australia Submarine Deal
  29. ^ Wallace, Japan tech deal could help power our subs
  30. ^ LaGrone, 'Japan and Australia to Cooperate on New Submarine Design
  31. ^ Keck, Australia and Japan to Ink Submarine Deal
  32. ^ a b c d Hardy, After Collins: Australia's submarine replacement programme
  33. ^ a b c Wroe, Australian-made submarines substantially cheaper than government suggests
  34. ^ ABC News, New subs unlikely to go nuclear: ADA
  35. ^ a b Owen & Akerman, Labor reneges on submarine promise to builder ASC
  36. ^ Pultarova, Australia seeks partners to build next-generation submarines
  37. ^ McGuire & Shepherd, Defence Minister David Johnston won’t rule out dumping plans to build submarines in Adelaide
  38. ^ a b Nicholson, New subs to be built in Adelaide whatever the pick
  39. ^ Kerr, Australia publishes second update to capability plan
  40. ^ Jennett, German shipbuilders ThyssenKrupp convinced they remain in race for Australian submarine contract


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