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The Future of Australia´s Submarine Force

Since 1967 the Royal Australian Navy has continuously submarines in its inventory. Beginning in 1996 the 6 British conventional “Oberon” Class submarines were replaced by the commissioning of the first of 5 more submarines of the “Collins”-Class. Following a contract of 1987 with the Swedish Kockums shipyard these submarines were built between 1989 and 2003 partially in Sweden and assembled at the Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) at Adelaide based on the Swedish Type “471” submarine.

The “Collins”-Class submarines have a length of 77.8 m and a beam of 7.8 m, their displacement is 3,353 t submerged. Their propulsion is Diesel-electric and their speed is up to 10 kn surfaced and up to 20 kn submerged, range is up to 11,500 nmi, and the subs have a Snorkel-system. Maximum diving depth is published as 300 m and their armament are 6 bow torpedo tubes, from which Mk 48 torpedoes (up to 22 on board) or AGM-84 “Harpoon” can be launched. Also, up to 44 mines can be delivered. The complement is 44 men and the submarines are stationed at its base at HMAS Stirling at Rockingham, near Perth in Western Australia.

Over and over again the operation of the submarines was accompanied by problems and the status of fully operational was not reached before 2007. Also, there were never more than 2 submarines simultaneously deployable. Current problem is the lack of personal, the required strength of some 500 men for the submarine service could be reached to 70 % only.

In December 2007 the then Australian Minister of Defense, Joel Fitzgibbon, announced that the “Collins”-Class submarines will be replaced by 12 new submarines (“Future Submarine”), with new plans for that to be developed soon. The Australian Government White Paper of 02nd of May 2009 (“Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030”) confirmed this intent. Selection and construction of new submarines replacing the “Collins”-Class was to come, that were able to operate with greater sustainability under the particularities of the Australian waters (tropical, as well as arctic) over long distances. The submarines were to be built at ASC at Adelaide, however, cooperation with submarine producers in the US and Europe was to be sought. It is assumed that the design and construction costs would mount up to at least 30 Bill. Australian Dollar (= 21,3 Bill. Euros)., currently even figures of some 36 Bill. AUD are in the pipeline. Therefore, this project is by far the most ambitious and costliest of the future armaments planning of Australia
The “Collins”-Class submarines will reach the end of their lifetime beginning at 2026, contracts for their replacement need to be signed not later than 2014/15. Currently, the “Concept Design” is underway, next year the “Preliminary Design” shall be launched and starting in 2015 or so the concrete “Detailed Design” phase is to come, with the beginning of construction scheduled for 2016.

After first interviews and speeches by the Naval top brass at the end of 2010 first drafts of concept papers were published dealing with the new submarine project called “SEA 100 – Future Submarine Project”. At the same time, the Australian security community discusses the project and many experts and institutes publish their thoughts to that. Generally, due to the requirements of submarines with long endurance and range being able to operate in tropical as well as arctic waters discussion examines options for both, conventional submarines with air independent propulsion (AIP) and nuclear propelled submarines. However, the nuclear option is rather unlikely and the current Minister of Defense, Stephen Smith, has clearly excluded such solution during a recent visit to the US at 25 July 2011. Moreover, such option would not be acceptable to Australian politics and public.

Hence, everything heads for large-size modern submarines with AIP and, for sure, there will be a hefty fight for the best offer for cooperation with ASC between submarine designers.


Russia successfully tests a new SLBM

In the August 2011 issue of our “Flotsam” we informed about the second new Russian strategic submarine of the “Borei”-Class and its successful launch of the SLBM “Bulova” (RSM-56) as the Naval version of the SS-27 TOPOL-M. The “Borei”-Class submarines are intended to replace the “Delta III” and “Delta IV”-Class submarines.

On 29 September 2011, media from Russia and elsewhere reported about a successful launch of a new SLBM Type “Liner” by the DELTE IV SSBN Tula in the Barents Sea. According to the spokesman of the Russian MoD the SLBM “Liner” is an advanced version of the already introduced SLBM Type “Sineva”, has, however, greater range and improved capabilities to penetrate through Anti-Missile Defence Systems.

SSBN Tula (K-14) is a strategic submarine of the DELTA IV Class (Project 667 BDRM) assigned to the Russian Northern Fleet. After an intensive mid-life conversion between 2000 and 2005 it resumed its operational service in January 2006 being equipped with the new SLBM “Sineva” (RSM-54/ RS-29MU). “Tula” was the third DELTA IV submarine to receive “Sineva” (tested since June 2004 and declared operational since 2007) after SSBN Verkhoturie (K-51) and Ekatarinburg (K-84), it launched two of the new SLBM on 06 August 2010.

The Tula was the 4th of a series of 7 DELTA IV submarines being built by the Sevmash shipyard at Severodvinsk, with keel laying on 22 February 1984 and commissioning on 30 October 1987, its displacement is 10,800 t surfaced and 13,550 t submerged, its length is 165 m and its beam 12 m, the complement is figured at 120 men. Armament is composed of 6 torpedo tubes for self defence and 16 SLBM of the SS-N-23 Type with up to 10 nuclear warheads, now the new “Sineva”.

The SLBM “Liner” seems being a solid fuel boosted ballistic missile further developed from the liquid fuel boosted SLBM “Sineva”, which roughly can be compared to the US SLBM “Trident D-5” (UGM-133). The SLBM “Sineva” has a weight about 40 to and a length of 15 m, during test firings distances up to 11,547 km were reached, and the 4-8 nuclear warheads have a yield of up to 100 KT, older data still figure the number of warheads as 10. Media are speculating, that the new SLBM “Liner” as a solid fuel boosted version of the “Sineva” and similar measures is intended to act as an alternative option in case the new SLBM “Bulova” turns out to be too costly and over-ambi-tious to develop. By means of the “Liner” the range of the well-tried “Sineva” can be increased to some 15,000 km without major efforts. According to unconfirmed news the test firing of “Sineva” by SSBN Ekatarinburg on 20 May 2011 in the Barents Sea was actually a first test firing of the new SLBM “Liner”.