Submarines: Australia Builds To Block China

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June 1, 2016: In April Australia selected a French firm (DCNS) to build twelve new submarines for the Australian Navy. The two other competitors were from Germany for the contract was from Japan, which was the favorite because it was local and has been building its own subs since the 1960s. Japan offered its new Soryu class. These 2,900 ton boats have a crew of 65, six 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes and 30 torpedoes or Harpoon anti-ship missiles. There are also two 76mm tubes for launching acoustic countermeasures. Sonar and electronics are superior to the previous class. These boats also have AIP (Air Independent Propulsion) that enables them to remain submerged for a week or more at a time. Top surface speed is 24 kilometers an hour, top submerged speed is 37 kilometers an hour. Japanese subs are built to operate in the Pacific and the first Soryu entered service in 2009. The German entry was a 3,600 ton Type 216, which was an enlarged Type 214. No 216s are operational or under construction.

Australians preferred a larger boat, which was what France offered. The French proposal was a diesel-electric version of their new Suffern class SSNs. This Shortfin Barracuda design was about 20 percent smaller (in surface displacement) than the 4,800 ton nuclear powered Suffern but was otherwise very similar with a crew of about 60, four 533mm torpedo tubes and 24 torpedoes, missiles or mines. A major selling point for the Barracuda was the proven silencing technology France had developed for their SSNs. This would now be added to an inherently quietly diesel-electric design.

The Barracudas are being built in Australia and will cost about $3.2 billion each. French firms will only control about half of that, with most of the rest going to American firms that will provide the electronics and weapons. The twelve Barracuda swill replace six Collins class boats and the first Barracuda will enter service in 2030, about when first of the six Collins class subs are four decades old and very due for retirement.

The new submarine construction effort is the result of a 2008 Australian study on what to do about China expanding their navy and making more and more claims on adjacent land and maritime territories. . Australia came up with a plan ("Force 2030") for expanding their armed forces. One of the key elements of this plan was an expansion of the submarine force from six to twelve boats. There was a secret section of the plan that discussed the need for the larger submarine force to join with the U.S. fleet to shut down Chinese exports (of manufactured goods) and imports (of food, industrial supplies, and raw materials). This part of the plan was kept secret so as not to offend the Chinese. While most Australian China experts do not believe China would ever start a war of conquest, China is becoming quite the regional bully. China could miscalculate while doing this, leading to war. Australia wants to be prepared.

The Australian Navy is adjusting to the fact that Force 2030 will mean that more than half (12 out of 23) of their major warships will be subs. The new class of 12 subs were supposed to replace the Collins boats in the 2020s, but that was too ambitious. The new boats were to be larger (about 4,000 tons) and cost about $2 billion each (more than the U.S. Virginia class nuclear powered attack subs). The new subs would carry cruise missiles in addition to torpedoes and mines, be quieter, and be equipped to do reconnaissance as well as combat missions. The Barracuda’s cost more than planned in part because Australia is building the infrastructure to do all major maintenance on the new subs in Australia. The Barracuda deal will also make it easier for Australia to build its own subs in the future.

The current Collins class boats were built in Australia and delivered between 1996 and 2003. They are based on a Swedish design (the Type 471). At 3,100 tons displacement, the Collins are half the size of the American Los Angeles class nuclear attack subs but are nearly twice the size of European non-nuclear subs. Australia needed larger boats because of the sheer size of the oceans in the area.

The new class of subs is going to build on the Collins design and was intended to have an air-independent propulsion (AIP) system. This enables the sub to stay underwater for over a week at a time. Australia is also acquiring new warplanes (F-35s) and amphibious ships as part of its "being ready for an aggressive China" program.

 


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