In peace time they will gather intelligence, but in any future war their main role will be to destroy enemy submarines and surface warships to stop them attacking ships travelling to or from Australia.
The “Future Submarines” may have their own remote-controlled mini-subs and small unmanned patrol aircraft, or drones, The Weekend Australian was told in an exclusive briefing from the Royal Australian Navy.
If the security situation deteriorates, they can be fitted with Tomahawk cruise missiles able to hit targets 2500km away.
Navy chief Ray Griggs says Australia is dependent on the sea for its security, prosperity and way of life. Abundant resources can be dug up, raised or harvested but they must also reach their markets. The country is also heavily dependent on tanker loads of imported fuel. “The nation’s ability to have free access to the global maritime trading system is its strategic centre of gravity,” Vice Admiral Griggs says.
For Australia to win a future conflict it must be able to protect ships carrying freight to sustain the economy and those carrying troops and equipment to the fighting. The main threat to those vessels will be enemy ships and submarines.
The officer in charge of the Future Submarine project, Rowan Moffitt, says the best weapon to destroy a submarine is another submarine. “In a war, a submarine’s obvious role is sinking an adversary’s ships but more important, often working with air power, is preventing an adversary’s submarines sinking our ships,” says Rear Admiral Moffitt.
The new submarines will be the navy’s main anti-submarine weapon at a time the number of submarines in the region is growing rapidly. By 2030, half the world’s submarines will be based in the Asia-Pacific. Until the late 2020s, the main defence against enemy submarines will be the six Collins-class boats. Then it will be the 12 new submarines the government says will be built in Adelaide.
The number of options for the replacement submarine has been narrowed down from four to two and the navy is now likely to get either an “enhanced” Collins-class boat or, if that won’t provide the best possible capability, a totally new design.
Either way, says Admiral Moffitt, they will be fitted with proven technology, whenever that can be done, and most likely the latest version of the combat system that is used in US nuclear attack submarines and the same heavyweight torpedoes the US Navy uses. Both have been developed co-operatively by US and Australian scientists.
The submarines promised in the 2013 white paper are likely to be bigger than the Collins-class boats, but they will be quieter and able to cruise submerged for longer using more sophisticated diesel and electric motors and more modern batteries.
Admiral Moffitt says a big problem with the original Collins project was that expectations were far too high. The Collins had a hull and combat system, diesel engine, main motor and ship control system that were developmental. “The whole thing was developmental,” he says. “We absolutely must not do that again. If we can get away with it, we must put nothing in the submarine at the beginning that has not been proven in a submarine before.”
Admiral Moffitt says all of the Collins’s problems are now understood and most have been fixed by Australian engineers and scientists with help largely from the US.
Many innovations are being considered for the new boats. A significant weakness in any submarine is a consequence of the crew’s need to see out of their steel cylinder, meaning periscopes have had to penetrate the pressure hull to be raised and lowered from the control room through the boat’s “fin”. That also means the fin has to be above the control room. A periscope fitted with modern electrico-optical sensors would not need to penetrate the pressure hull and the “view” would be transmitted to the control room, which could be placed anywhere on the boat.
Australia needs a submarine with a very long range and room to carry a lot of equipment, says Admiral Moffitt. “We expect to have to go a very long way and it’s a very long way to come back to top up your weapons if you are in a shooting war,” he said.
While the smaller European submarines, which were considered an option until this month, could operate comfortably for just three weeks to a month, the Collins has been at sea for two months or more at a time. Late last year HMAS Farncombe made a 20,000 nautical mile round trip that included exercises off Hawaii.
So will a conventional submarine be able to take on one of the nuclear submarines that are becoming increasingly common in the region? “If we find ourselves up against one, we defeat it by having our submarine in the right place,” says Admiral Moffitt.
“You defeat it if your submarine has the best stealth capability and has sufficient endurance.”
The submarine had to be equipped to “hear” its opponent and fire a torpedo before the enemy crew found it. “You defeat it by knowing well in advance what’s going on,” he says. “This is where two of a submarine’s key capabilities come together — intelligence collection in peace time that gives us the edge in war and our anti-submarine capability.”
That involves, in part, keeping track of what other nations’ submarines are doing in peace time to make it easier to find them during a conflict.
Admiral Griggs says that for a submarine, much depends on where it is located relative to an enemy boat’s base. “If your boat is positioned in the right space it is capable of almost anything.”
Admiral Moffitt says submarines have been successful when they operated in an aggressively offensive way. “You’ve got to be out there to do the damage you need to do.”Source: The Australian – Subs need to be out there doing the damage
- Japanese technology could improve Australia’s Collins-class submarines (craighill.net)
- China’s new hydrophonic detection net able to detect US nuclear submarines (chinadailymail.com)
- Australia Is Looking for a Few Good Subs (fool.com)
- China upgrades anti-submarine fleet to combat US threat: report (wantchinatimes.com)
- Australia Needs Strategic Rethink on Submarines (thediplomat.com)
- JC’s Navy, other Marine or Service News – Defence Force Exercises in North West Australia (rnzngunners.wordpress.com)
- Oppn says it will move quickly on subs (news.smh.com.au)
- Coalition gives differing scorecards for Collins Class subs (abc.net.au)
- Australia’s Submarine Folly (thediplomat.com)
- Subs need to be out there doing the damage (nosint.blogspot.com)
- Australia Is Looking for a Few Good Subs (dailyfinance.com)