April 5, 2007:
Australia has completed the
refurbishment and upgrades on the first of its six Collins class subs. The
United States, in a rare move, gave Australia access to American sonar and
underwater warfare systems technology for this. Australia is spending nearly a
hundred million dollars each, to upgrade the sonar and fire control systems on
its six Collins class subs, and this new deal with the U.S. means that those
diesel electric subs will carry the most advanced electronics in the world. The
Collins class boats, mainly because of the quality of their crews, have proved
to be among the most capable diesel-electric subs in the world. This is known
because Collins class boats often train with U.S. Navy ships and aircraft, and
usually come out ahead.
This has made the American admirals more concerned
about the threat from diesel-electric subs. For the moment, however, none of
America's potential naval foes have submarine crews as well trained as the
Australians. The new electronics will provide the Collins class boats with
combat capabilities similar to the new U.S. Virginian class SSNs.
The Collins class boats were built in Australia
during the 1990s, and are based on a Swedish design (the Type 471.) At 3,000
tons displacement, the Collins are half the size of the American Los Angeles
class nuclear attack subs. However, boats that size are nearly twice the size
of subs Europeans are accustomed to designing and building for their own use.
Australia needed larger boats because of the sheer size of the oceans that
surround Australia. There were a lot of technical problems with the Collins
class boats, which the media jumped all over. The design of these subs was
novel and ambitious, using a lot of automation. This reduced the crew size to 45.
Australia didn't formally "accept" all the Collins
class boats until three years ago, when everyone agreed that all the major
technical problems were fixed, or at least identified. The current problem is
recruiting a sufficient number of qualified sailors to keep these subs at sea.
Last year, because of personnel shortages, each available Collins class sub was
only able to get to sea for 88 days. In 2005, each boat averaged 113 days. The
Australian armed forces, in general, are having recruiting problems, and the
government is providing more money (the traditional, and most effective, cure)
to deal with the problem.