Tag Archives: Australia

Australia – Nuclear not an option for next generation of submarines

Current – The Australian Collins-class submarine, HMAS Rankin (SSK 78), enters Pearl Harbor for a port visit after completing exercises in the Pacific region

By Paul Dibb

LATER this year, the government will make a decision to narrow the choice for Australia’s future submarines. Contrary to opinions expressed in The Weekend Australian (“Past sub mistakes make a case for going nuclear”, January 5-6) the preferred option will certainly not be a nuclear submarine.

And – contrary to recent views in other media – whichever submarines we choose, they will not be built overseas.

So why not get American nuclear submarines? As the Minister for Defence Materiel, Jason Clare, has noted, the US has never exported or leased a naval nuclear reactor. The US will not simply hand over sensitive nuclear military knowledge, even to its close ally. The US ambassador has observed we don’t have a nuclear energy program and that unless we get that kind of infrastructure, “it’s very, very difficult to maintain any sort of other nuclear industries”. If you don’t have a nuclear industry, you don’t know how to operate nuclear submarines safely.

In the event of a safety problem with the nuclear reactor, who would fix it? Britain had exactly such a problem 12 years ago with one of its nuclear attack submarines, which had to spend 12 months in Gibraltar with a potentially serious leaking weld in the primary reactor circuit that involved partially draining the re-actor coolant. How would we cope with that sort of event in Fremantle if we didn’t have properly trained and experienced nuclear engineers?

The fact that we have no experience with nuclear propulsion means we would be totally dependent on the US for the submarines’ regular and safe maintenance. This could be a big problem if we ever wanted to use these submarines in a regional conflict where Australian and US interests were not aligned.

My understanding is that at the highest levels, the US has indicated very firmly to us that it prefersAustralia to have conventional submarines that can go places and do things that large nuclear submarines cannot do so easily. That was certainly my experience with Australian covert submarine operations in the Cold War.

Whichever submarine we choose, it will have a US combat system, which will give us a crucial operational advantage over potential regional adversaries. We are the only other country in the world to have the US AN/BYG-1 combat system and advanced US weapons such as the ADCAP Mark 48 torpedo on our Collins-class submarines. Washington will not allow European submarine builders to integrate such a highly secret capability in their shipbuilding yards. It would have to be done in Australia.

So what options does that leave us with? They are as follows:

We could simply buy a European military off-the-shelf solution, unmodified except for Australian regulatory and environmental requirements. That would be the cheapest solution. But if it was built in Europe, it would come with a European combat system that would give us no operational advantage over similar origin submarines that might be exported into our region.

A more attractive option would be to choose a significantly modified European vessel that would accommodate our requirement for greater range and endurance, given our demanding strategic geography. It is conceivable that were such a European submarine to be built in Australia, the US would agree to us integrating their combat system. That is clearly one option for consideration.

The third option is for an evolved Collins-class once the government is satisfied that the present operational problems of these submarines have been resolved.

The chief executive of Defence acquisition, Warren King, is of the view that important lessons have been learnt from building the Collins. The key lesson is that we can construct world-class submarines in Australia, but next time we will need to choose a proven combat system and propulsion.

The fourth option, which I consider to be highly unlikely, is to have a brand-new, large conventional submarine designed especially for us. That would be both the highest risk and cost and should not be considered.

Whichever submarine we choose, I do not believe we should calculate the number of boats we require based on highly unlikely scenarios of war with China. That was the fatal flaw in the 2009 Defence white paper. We require submarines optimised for our own strategic requirements, which means an operational area extending from the eastern Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and defending our vast maritime approaches.

The bottom line is that we need a submarine that is capable of supporting our sovereign requirement for independent submarine operations. The sort of money involved ranges anywhere from $10 billion to $30bn. That may suggest we end up with a preferred option and another option held in reserve as more reliable cost, schedule and technological risk data are developed.

Paul Dibb is emeritus professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University. He is a former deputy secretary of Defence and director of the Defence Intelligence Organisation. He is an adviser to the SA government on defence policy issues.

Source – The Australian

Australia – 1942 Submarine attack on Newcastle (Book)

A  NEW book about Japanese submarine attacks on Australia in 1942 provides perhaps the most detailed account yet published of Newcastle under fire.

Artwork by Monty Wedd.

A Parting Shot, by Terry Jones and Steven Carruthers, delves into military archives and old records and uses interviews with witnesses to put together a compelling narrative that helps lay to rest some old myths and Novocastrian urban legends.

The authors have disproven, for example, the old story that some of the shells fired by the Japanese submarine I-21 had been made years before in Britain.

The mark in Parnell Place made by a shelling from the submarine.The mark in Parnell Place made by a shelling from the submarine.

And the same close examination of the surviving shells and their distinctive markings has led to the authors’ theory that one shell at the Australian War Memorial – long thought to have been one of those fired on Sydney – is actually a star shell that was fired on Newcastle.

The authors have also taken issue with reports that as many as 34 shells fell on Newcastle.

This estimate was mistaken, they write, insisting that the number can have been no higher than 21 and was probably fewer.Rare photo of the Japanese 121 submarine, believed to be the type of vessel used in the attack on Newcastle.Rare photo of the Japanese 121 submarine, believed to be the type of vessel used in the attack on Newcastle.

Most were high explosive shells, several of which failed to explode.

Some were star shells, designed to illuminate the target area.

The book states that the Japanese were mainly intent on sowing fear in the population and had little real expectation of doing major damage.

Their targets in Newcastle were the BHP steelworks and the old Walsh Island dockyard – which they appeared not to realise had been dismantled years before.

The authors speculate that the submarine switched its attention to the direction of Fort Scratchley and Newcastle East in an attempt to douse the searchlights that had caught it in their beams.

History records that Fort Scratchley successfully frightened the submarine away.

But according to the book, chaos and confusion reigned in Newcastle on June 8, 1942, when the submarine opened fire. Inspecting a terrace with blown-out windows in Parnell Place after the attack.Inspecting a terrace with blown-out windows in Parnell Place after the attack.

The city’s defences were plagued by poor communication and, in some cases, uneasy relationships caused by the conflicting priorities of defence authorities and industry bosses.

A Parting Shot quotes an eyewitness account of the shelling by Lieutenant Ken Robin, aboard HMAS Allenwood, berthed at Kings Wharf in Newcastle Harbour.

‘‘I had a good view to the north, up the river to the steelworks,’’ Lieutenant Robin wrote. ‘‘The flare was white with a yellowish tinge and it floated down slowly on a parachute.

The idea was to illuminate the target for a business round, but they had got the range wrong.

‘‘The star shells burst to the seaward side of the steelworks and didn’t silhouette anything of importance. I would say a maximum of six star shells were fired. They burst over the river, working from north to south from the steelworks to the Horseshoe, opposite the Custom House.

‘‘We heard the case from the last one splash down in the river about 100metres off our starboard beam. There was a slight delay – perhaps 30seconds – after the star shells exploded. Then we heard three or four proper shells coming in. I don’t know where they would have gone. One explosion seemed to come from the seaward side of Fort Scratchley, the next somewhere in the city, south from the station.’’

The good news was that the submarine was frightened away.

The bad news was that the city’s defence communications were shown to be shaky, with the official censor’s report concluding that ‘‘the whole show was a disgrace and should be investigated’’.

ALMOST as interesting as the account of the night of the submarine attack is the book’s description of events a week later, at about 6.30pm on June 14.

Jumpy searchlight operators saw what they thought was a periscope entering Newcastle Harbour and issued a report ‘‘that led to panic and confusion’’.

The book relates that a gun at ‘‘Rail Battery’’ near Nobbys fired at the suspected periscope shortly after 7pm.

‘‘This was followed by light and heavy gunfire from Rail and Wave batteries as the object drifted backwards and forwards at the harbour entrance.

Located on opposite sides of the harbour entrance, both batteries were in each other’s crossfire at various times during the night as they fired at suspicious objects in the water.

The last shot was fired about 2335 hours.’’

During the scare Rail Battery fired five rounds and Wave Battery fired 17.

‘‘One shell ricocheted off the harbour waters and hit the Zaara Street power station, about 75feet above the ground level of No.2 boiler house, fracturing the buttress and making a large hole in the brickwork,’’ the book states.

‘‘Another struck the embankment protecting a petrol supply tank near the pilot station adjacent to HMAS Maitland and Shortland army camp. Several reports record a fragment from this shell made a small hole in the iron roof of a nearby drill hall.’’

The book also reports that a Lewis machine-gun on the northern wave trap at the harbour entrance slipped while being readied for action, firing a stream of bullets towards Newcastle East and forcing troops there to take cover.

The gun fired tracer bullets to illuminate the suspected periscope, but the bullets ricocheted off the water and passed over the army camp.

Searchlight operators and gun crews reported seeing the periscope and also a conning tower, and Wave Battery fired. One of its shells ‘‘struck a metal pole on the perimeter of the battery, cutting a cable, extinguishing the searchlight and slicing through communication lines to the fire commander on Shepherds Hill.’’

A shell fragment hit one artillery spotter’s steel helmet.

According to the book: ‘‘In a move that was either courageous or foolhardy, the RAAF launch Norlan, which was entering harbour when the shelling began, headed down the searchlight beam to look for the submarine during the gunfire.’’

The last shots were fired just before midnight, but the harbour was full of explosions for hours to come, as navy launches and a minesweeper raced around dropping grenades into the water at random intervals.

There appears to have been no submarine, but searchers found a steel drum, some driftwood and a large wooden case.

A Parting Shot will be launched at the Newcastle Maritime Centre on Thursday, January 17, 10 am to noon.

Source – Newcastle Herald

Australia – Past submarine mistakes make a case for going nuclear

  • HMAS Dechaineux and HMAS Waller

RAN Collins-class submarines Dechaineux and Waller in an exercise off the West Australian coast. The fleet has been plagued with problems. Picture: Australian Defence Force Source: Supplied

Julia Gillard on Collins-class submarine

Julia Gillard is shown around a Collins-class submarine.

Virginia-class attack submarine

A US Virginia-class attack submarine, which could be leased.

ON Tuesday, the National Archives released the 1985 cabinet submission that led to the decision to build six Collins-class submarines in Adelaide. A key question is whether the lessons from that experience have been learned by the current government as it moves to buy a new class of replacement submarines for the navy. Continue reading

Collins Class submarines set for a longer life


Stephen Smith

Defence Minister Stephen Smith, visiting a shipbuilding yard in Adelaide, says the Collins Class submarines could keep operating until 2038.

THE life of the navy’s Collins Class submarines may be extended to 2038, with the federal government claiming the boats’ performance can be significantly improved within three years to meet new performance targets.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith released the second part of the Coles report in Adelaide today, which concludes that achieving “acceptable availability and reliability” of the Collins fleet can be achieved by 2016.

Mr Smith said that extending the life of the notoriously problematic boats would not delay the building of the navy’s new submarine fleet, which is slated to begin service in 2036.

“There is nothing in the reports today which would cause us to put off the build of the future submarine program,” Mr Smith said at the ASC shipbuilding yard in Port Adelaide.

“On the contrary, there is a lot of information in the Coles review which will be of assistance to our decisions on the future submarine program.”

Mr Smith said a final decision on which submarine option Defence would choose for the new fleet would be made by 2017, but dismissed criticism of a potential $36 billion cost for an Australian built and designed fleet.

“We continue to exhaustively assess all of the options – all of the options are an off-the-shelf submarine, an off-the-shelf submarine modified, a derivative of the Collinsor a brand new design,” he said.

“The only option we have ruled out is a nuclear-powered option.”

The potential to extend the life of the Collins Class boats for an additional seven-year operating cycle would mean that the ageing vessels would be available to the navy through from 2031 until 2038.

However Mr Smith cautioned that the potential extended lifespan was a finding “on paper”.

“I say on paper because by that time we will be dealing with an ageing platform or an ageing submarine.”

“(But) it gives us confidence that we can do the work on the future submarine program and not have a gap in capability,” he said.

The second part of the Coles Review, which was received by the government in June, recommends new availability targets for the six-boat fleet, which would ensure two submarines are available 100 per cent of the time, three submarines available 90 per cent of the time, and four submarines available 50 per cent of the time.

The review includes 25 recommendations for meeting the new availability targets and says that previous expectations for availability had been overly optimistic.

“The performance of Collins Class submarines can be substantially improved,” Mr Smith said.

“Once the Collins is in the water, it is a very good and effective submarine, what we need to do is get it in the water on a more regular basis.”

Mr Smith said Adelaide-based ASC, which was allocated an additional $700 million in May this year to sustain the Collins Class submarines, would be able to meet the new availability targets with its current resources.

The government also announced today that a future submarine land-based test site would be built in Adelaide at an approximate cost of $100 million to test systems for the future submarines.

However, Mr Smith said the government was still working through the details for the project’s funding, which would be found within the existing Defence budget.

Source – The Australian

Stephen Smith to rule on submarine building – Australia

DEFENCE Minister Stephen Smith will make a significant announcement today about Australia’s naval capability.

The minister will release the long-awaited second volume of the Coles report on the sustainment of the Collins-class submarines, which is believed to be highly critical of past measures to keep the boats operational.

Mr Smith will say the issues the report raises have largely been fixed over the eight months he has had the report.

It is considered likely he will confirm that the navy’s promised 12 new Future Submarines will be built in Adelaide, at or near the Australian Submarine Corporation facilities.

A giant testing unit will enable close examination of the entire propulsion system for the new submarines before the systems are built into the Future Submarines. It is hoped this will ensure there is no repeat of the problems that emerged as the Collins submarines were developed.

Source – The Australian

Submarine propulsion test site augurs well for Adelaide


Hillary Clinton's visit to Adelaide

Hillary Clinton, Jay Weatherill and Air Warfare Destroyer Alliance CEO Rod Equid tour the Techport Australia shipbuilding facility in Adelaide last month. Source: adelaidenow

A HI-TECH propulsion testing site will be built in Adelaide, making it an “irresistible” case for the future submarines to be built in South Australia.

Federal Defence Minister Stephen Smith will today visit Outer Harbor’s Techport facility to announce the Land Based Test Site, which industry sources say will cost about $30 million to build, will be based in SA.

The testing facility allows the submarine propulsion systems to be tested and proved before installation, a capability aimed at overcoming criticism levelled at the ageing Collins Class fleet.

Today’s announcement comes as the Federal Government weighs up options for the future sub program, ranging from a complete Australian design and build to an off-the-shelf foreign option.

South Australia is angling for as much local design and build input as possible to get more jobs and investment and Mr Weatherill says that the state is now positioned for “immense” investment.

The ageing Collins Class submarines have been beset by criticism that their propulsion systems are too loud and prone to breakdown. One expert has likened it to an “underwater rock concert”.

Mr Smith said the future sub project, which would create thousands of jobs in SA, was to be the “largest and most complex Defence project ever undertaken by Australia” but came with significant risks.

The new Outer Harbor testing site would help reduce these risks.

“Regardless of the submarine design option that is ultimately chosen, the establishment of the Land Based Test Site will significantly reduce the risk of delay and cost blow-outs,” Mr Smith said.

“This facility will address some of the potential risk areas for the future submarine. (It) will also help ensure that challenges encountered from the maintenance of the Collins Class fleet are addressed.”

Independent reports estimate the cost of the 12 future subs at $36 billion. Further work is to be done on the “form and function” of the program, which will also include investment in research and development with further details to be revealed next year.

WA and Victoria are also to take part in the program, but the main testing site will be at Techport.

Premier Jay Weatherill said building the propulsion test site in Adelaide was a significant step.

“It is building an irresistible case for SA to be the base of the future submarine project,” he said.

“The significance of this project cannot be underestimated – when it goes ahead it will be the largest government procurement project Australia has seen and potentially worth tens of billions of dollars.

“Building a submarine has been described as being as complex as building a spaceship, so the jobs, investment and skills a project of this magnitude would bring to South Australia is immense.

“I look forward to continuing to work closely with the Federal Government to make the Future Submarine project a reality to SA.”

SA Defence Industries Minister Jack Snelling met federal officials in January to make the case for a propulsion testing site and said he was prepared to back the bid with funding.

Other states, including WA and NSW, were expected to start a bidding war for the facility.

The federal and state governments have not revealed how much is being contributed to the build. Defence Teaming Centre chief executive Chris Burns has previously pushed for construction of a propulsion testing facility at Techport, arguing it could be used to test and repair propulsion systems for other boats. Many small manufacturers in SA build propulsion system components.

The test site may attract new projects to bridge the so-called “valley of death” looming in 2017. That is the gap between the end of the Air Warfare Destroyer program and the beginning of future submarine construction, expected in 2020 or later.

Industry figures fear the lack of work in that time will lead high-skilled workers to leave the state and create extreme costs in recruiting when work later ramps up on the future submarines.

Source – Herald Sun