by Peter Ong with additional reporting by Xavier Vavasseur
The Royal Australian Navy’s Collins-class submarines were the first locally produced Australian submarines built in partnership with a few European countries during the 1990s and are expected to reach the end of their service lives in 2026 although plans are for all six Collins submarines to undergo upgrades to prolong their lives until the Attack-class enter service as reported in Naval News.
Despite being locally produced, the Collins submarines had inherent design problems as they were loud at higher speeds and their combat systems didn’t perform as expected. These issues were attributed to the bad design of the hull, the poor shipbuilding experience of Australia at the time, the poor quality of manufacturing and mechanical engineering, and the poor quality of the hull welds. Thus, Naval Group strives to help build an efficient and local Australian supply chain to maximize Australian content while building the future Attack-class submarines with better knowledge, quality, and expertise than the Collins-class attack submarines.
The Attack-class design is based on a conventional version of the Barracuda SSN (Suffren-class) and has a sloped-front sail, bow diving planes, and a pump-jet propulsor (instead of a propeller) with an X-rudder. According to Navy News, the official newspaper of the Royal Australian Navy, the diesel-electric Attack-class specifications compared to the current Collins-class submarines are:
The Attack-class sensors and processing systems are supposed to be superior in every way to the Collins-class, and will possess the AN/BYG-1 combat system with the armament consisting of eight x 533 mm (21-inch) torpedo tubes with an inventory of 28 torpedoes being Mark 48 MOD 7 heavyweight torpedo, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, or Mk III Stonefish mines.
The decision not to use nuclear power for the Attack-class submarine propulsion stemmed from the facts that Australia has little nuclear power industry and experience, operational sovereignty issues with operating a foreign nuclear-powered submarine such as those built in the U.S.A., and public opposition to using nuclear power and technology.
According to Naval Group Australia’s (NGA) website, “In 2016, the Commonwealth Government announced in the Defence White Paper that it would double the size of the current fleet of Collins submarines by procuring 12 Future Submarines at a cost of more than $50 Billion – the largest Defence procurement program in Australia’s history.
“Key strategic requirements for the Future Submarine were: Range and endurance similar to the Collins, stealth and sensor performance superior to the Collins, and upgraded versions of AN/BYG-1 combat system and Mk 48 heavyweight torpedo.
“All submarines will be built in Australia at the Submarine Construction Yard, Osborne, South Australia. The first submarine will begin service in the early 2030s with construction of the last submarine in the 2050s with sustainment continuing until the 2080s.
“Australia’s Future Submarines will be built in Adelaide, Australia. The first submarine will commence service in the early 2030s with construction of the last submarine in the 2050s. Sustainment will continue into the 2080s. Naval Group (formerly DCNS) was announced as Australia’s International partner for the design and build of 12 Future Submarines in 2016.
“Naval Group was announced as the Future Submarine Platform Systems Integrator for the design of the Future Submarine in April 2016 and the Submarine Design Contract was signed 1st March 2019.
“Lockheed Martin, Australia (LMA), was announced as the Future Submarine Combat System Integrator in September 2016 and the Design Build and Integration Contract was signed 12 January 2018.
“Laing O’Rourke was announced as the managing contractor for the construction of Submarine Construction Yard in December 2018.
According to NGA’s Warship Program Director, the timeline for the Attack-class submarine design is as follows:
Australian Defense Industry Invitation
Due to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Naval Group Australia’s General Manager, Stakeholder Management explained the latest meeting between Naval Group Australia and local industry had to be moved online and invited local industry to participate in videos available on a dedicated website.
According to the introduction video, engaging Australian industry in the future submarine program is a priority for Naval Group that committed to 60% of Australian content for the 12 Attack Submarines to be produced locally in Australia. The basic Attack-class design is currently taking place with the detailed design to start in early 2023.
Contracts were awarded to PMB Defense and Sunlight Systems for study and design of the batteries. Schneider Electric will deliver the main D/C electrical switchboards. Babcock will deliver the weapons discharge systems. MTU will deliver the Diesel Generators. Jeumont will deliver the main electrical propulsion units. Australian industry does not produce these kinds of systems so contract went to international companies that committed to developing the subsystems and components locally.
The Submarine Construction Yard, Osborne, South Australia, is called Building 001 with other buildings providing support for painting and subcomponent assembly (such as Building 003 and 008). All this is locally produced for a viable submarine building program that is not currently in existence. According to the NGA (interim) General Manager – Procurement & Supply Chain video, the Timeline for the Submarine Construction Yard is as follows:
Building 001 has two adjacent construction bays potentially able to produce two submarines although this is unclear if construction would be done simultaneously. 001 is an enclosed building designed to shelter the workforce and shield assembly from overhead spy satellites. Inside, the ceiling has two overhead cranes running one-half the length of the construction bays with multi-story construction scaffolding left, right, and center.
The Common User Facility Shiplift outside of Building 001 is used as the launching bay and floodable submarine dry-dock. The built submarines need to be rolled out to reach the dry-dock.
The Introductory video also states that to produce the Attack-class submarines locally, four-year apprenticeships were established, and with completion in 2023. These apprentices will then transfer back to Naval Group Australia for hull fabrication in late 2023. The Engineering Services Timeline for subcontractors to build the Attack-class is as follows:
200 people are currently working in Naval Group Australia on the future submarine program with 500 additional in France. Some Australian submarine design engineers will move to France (after COVID-19) to do a three-year study on submarine build design.
Four very specific, technical, complicated parts will be made at Naval Group’s Submarine shipyard in Cherbourg (France) with French and Australian workers. This is limited to the very first of the Attack-class submarines as it will serve as training for the Australian workforce who will then be able to bring this knowledge back to Australia for the rest of the series.
By 2028-2029 there will be about 1,800 employees at Naval Group Australia (compared to 200 currently). By 2032, the first Attack-class submarine will be launched and the last (twelfth submarine) will be launched in 2054.
According to Australian authorities, the program is still on track even though impact of COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 on the program is being assessed. Program Managers of Naval Group are waiting for when it would be safe to resume International air travel between Australia and France and rely on visio and teleconferencing to keep the link in the meantime.