Australia to Build New Submarines: Part of the Strategic Quadrangle?


2016-03-01 Part of the Australian re-set on defense is the construction of new submarines.

And these submarines will carry combat systems, almost certainly American, designed to be software upgradeable, like the Wedgetail or F-35, to evolve over time and to connect more effectively with a better connected Australian Defence Force or ADF.

As Greg Sheridan noted in a January 25, 2016 article in The Australian:

It is a critical feature of Canberra’s plan that the new submarines have an American combat system. Australia and Britain are the US’s two most intimate military allies and a certain amount of the highest-end defence technology is provided that is not given to other allies.

The combat system on the ­Collins-class subs, which have to be phased out of service from the second­ half of next decade, is among the most advanced in the world on any submarine, and has many points of resemblance to the combat system on the ­American Virginia-class nuclear submarines.

The Collins can fire on enemy ships at a range of tens of kilo­metres and possesses extraordin­arily sensitive and powerful sensor and surveillance technology.

The Australian Defence White paper laid out in some detail the new submarine and how the ADF sees the evolution of the new submarine within the integrated force:

Modernising our maritime capabilities will be a key focus. The submarine force will be increased from 6 to 12 regionally superior submarines with a high degree of interoperability with the United States (page 19 Defence White Paper).

Modernising our maritime capabilities will be a key focus for Defence over the next 20 to 30 years. Our maritime forces will become more potent through the acquisition of more capable submarines, ships and aircraft and better integration of combat and supporting systems across Defence.

These forces will help to protect our maritime borders, secure our immediate northern approaches and proximate sea lines of communication and enable us to project force in the maritime environment. Increasingly, these capabilities will provide an ability to undertake anti-submarine warfare throughout the maritime environment (pages 89-90).

Submarines are an essential part of Australia’s naval capability, providing a strategic advantage in terms of surveillance and protection of our maritime approaches. The Government has determined that regionally superior submarines with a high degree of interoperability with the United States are required to provide Australia with an effective deterrent, including by making a meaningful contribution to anti-submarine warfare operations in our region.

The key capabilities of the future submarine will include: anti-submarine warfare; anti-surface warfare; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and support to special operations.

4.26 The Government will increase the size of the submarine force from six to 12 boats. The doubling in size of the submarine fleet recognizes that Australia will face a more challenging maritime environment in the decades ahead.

By 2035, around half of the world’s submarines will be operating in the Indo-Pacific region where Australia’s interests are most engaged. Australia has one of the largest maritime domains in the world and we need the capacity to defend and further our interests from the Pacific to the Indian Oceans and from the areas to our north to the Southern Ocean. Submarines are a powerful instrument for deterring conflict and a potent weapon should conflict occur.

Australia’s new submarines will be supported by upgrades to enablers and facilities such as wharves and port facilities, as well as simulators, training and submarine rescue systems.

The key strategic requirements for the future submarines include a range and endurance similar to the Collins Class submarine, sensor performance and stealth characteristics which are superior to the Collins Class, and upgraded versions of the AN/BYG-1 combat system and Mark 48 MOD 7 heavyweight torpedo jointly developed between the United States and Australia as the preferred combat system and main armament.

The new submarines will have advanced communications systems to link with other Navy ships and aircraft to conduct anti-submarine warfare operations.

Experts say Japan's Soryu-class submarine appears to have emerged as the front-runner in the race to build Australia's next-generation vessels. | DEFENSE MINISTRY / MARITIME SELF-DEFENSE FORCE
Experts say Japan’s Soryu-class submarine appears to have emerged as the front-runner in the race to build Australia’s next-generation vessels. | DEFENSE MINISTRY / MARITIME SELF-DEFENSE FORCE

4.28 The acquisition of the 12 future submarines will commence in 2016 with the first submarines likely to begin entering service in the early 2030s.

Construction of the 12 new submarines will extend into the late 2040s to 2050 timeframe. The length of the construction process will mean that Australia will need to be planning the follow-on submarine well before the last new submarine enters service.

To ensure no capability gap and the ability to progress development of a replacement submarine in the 2050s, the Government has decided to implement a rolling acquisition program for Australia’s submarine fleet.

A rolling acquisition program will ensure that Australia is able to maintain a fleet of 12 regionally superior submarines as submarine and anti-submarine technologies develop over the coming decades.

4.29 During the long life of the new submarines, the rapid rate of technological change and ongoing evolution of Australia’s strategic circumstances will continue. As part of the rolling acquisition program, a review based on strategic circumstances at the time, and developments in submarine technology, will be conducted in the late 2020s to consider whether the configuration of the submarines remains suitable or whether consideration of other specifications should commence.

The future submarine program is the largest defence procurement program in Australia’s history. The Government has already committed to maximising Australian industry involvement in the submarine program, without compromising cost, capability, schedule or risk. The Government will announce the results of a Competitive Evaluation Process in 2016.

4.31 The Government will also continue to make appropriate investments in the existing Collins Class fleet, including priority capability enhancements, obsolescence management and fleet sustainment, to ensure Australia’s potent and agile submarine capability is maintained until the introduction of the future submarine fleet.

This will include upgrades to the Collins Class communications and sensor capabilities.

4.32 This investment will build on recent improvements to Collins Class availability. In 2011–12, Collins Class availability was about half that of the international benchmark and in the past there had been up to three submarines undergoing long-term maintenance.

Following the 2012 Coles Review and implementation of a comprehensive and innovative transformation plan, there has been a major improvement in the availability of the Collins Class, and Defence is on track to reach the international benchmark for submarine availability by mid-2016.

By mid-2016, the submarine HMAS Farncomb will have completed the first two-year full cycle docking in Adelaide – a maintenance activity that formerly took over three years to complete. From then onwards only one Collins Class submarine will be in Adelaide for full cycle docking. Defence will continue to work closely with industry to implement reforms to optimise Collins Class availability, reliability and capability (pages 90-92)

The evolving Australian-Japanese defense relationship is such that Australia might well prioritize the purchase of a Japanese submarine, notably with an American combat system onboard.

In our book on Pacific strategy, we referred to the Japanese to Singapore/Korea and Australian area as the strategic quadrangle, from Japan to South Korea, to Singapore to Australia.

The U.S. and its allies need to shape a new attack and defense enterprise in the Pacific. Credit Image: AOL Defense.
The U.S. and its allies need to shape a new attack and defense enterprise in the Pacific. Credit Image: Breaking Defense.

The notion that the outreach from Japanese defense industry put in place by the current Japanese government as part of its defense reform strategy to Australia which would in turn provide dry-docks and other repair facilities for an expanded Australian-Japanese fleet operating in the area could well make a great deal of strategic sense.

In a piece written by Jesse Johnson and published in The Japan Times on March 1, 2016, the Australians purchasing Japanese submarines was analyzed in some detail.

With Australia’s release of its defense white paper last week, the race to build the country’s next generation of submarines enters the home stretch — and some experts say the Japanese bid appears to hold an insurmountable lead…..

“First and foremost, we’ve made a big strategic commitment to Japan based on this view of where the region is heading,” said Nick Bisley, a professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.

“There is bipartisan support … both sides think this is a really good idea. … That plus the operational side — the Japanese submarine is most similar to ours — will tilt the balance very heavily in their favor.

“And the Japanese are also saying they are now open to the construction process in Australia, so that the government will be able to present a package that says ‘we’ve got jobs, we’ve got something we want, and we’ve got this friend in Japan.’ Together, I think that makes it overwhelmingly the choice that will be made.”

Japan has said it is willing to build at least some of the submarines in Australia, a key economic factor that until recently Tokyo had been apparently unwilling to commit to. Tokyo has also reassured Canberra that if it wins the sub bid Japan will also share with Australia its naval crown jewels — its most secret stealth technology…..

During a visit to Tokyo last month, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said her country’s relationship with Japan is at an “all-time high,” and acknowledged that the Japanese side has “emphasized the strategic importance” of the submarine bid…..