Important update on this article: April Fool’s
Leaks have appeared in Australia’s nuclear submarine program. They reveal key details about the new submarine, which is the cornerstone of the new AUKUS pact between Australia, United Kingdom and United States. The go-forward design will be very different from what many have previously speculated.
The new submarine will be a nuclear-powered evolution of the Collins Class. Six Collins Class are already in service with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) so this reflects a conservative choice.
The leaked document, seen by Naval News, outlines the propulsion. While the Collins Class is not mentioned, it is clear from a computer aided design (CAD) drawing that it is based on a Collins Class hull. As well as the nuclear propulsion, the new boats appear to have a vertical launch system for additional missiles.
The decision will come as a shock to those who were expecting either the American Virginia class or British Astute class. Those were the two main designs in contention, with a nuclear ‘Son of Collins’ barely discussed until now.
An evolution of the Collins design does make some sense. The tools and machinery for constructing Collins Class boats is already in the country. The Collins Class themselves were constructed between 1990 and 2003 by Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) in South Australia. Their design was by Swedish shipyard Kockums, now part of Saab, who also have a presence in Australia. This is likely to be a factor in the decision.
The Collins Class already has three deck levels compared to four for the U.S. Navy’s Virginia Class. This should still be enough to allow for the nuclear reactor however. With the reactor the new design will be much longer than the Collins Class. We estimate that it will be almost as large as the French Barracuda design.
Nuclear Son Of Collins
The new design, labelled ‘Future Submarine Go-Forward Baseline’, features an Australian made nuclear reactor. A home-grown reactor is a bold move for the country which has a minimal existing nuclear infrastructure. Currently the energy sector is stronger on fossil fuels. However it may alleviate some fears surrounding the supply of nuclear material from the US or UK to Australia.
The leaked slide also indicates that the lengthened Collins class boat will have a vertical launch system (VLS). Three tubes are shown behind the sail. Their capacity is not specified but appears consistent with three-five missiles per vls.
This will add between 9-15 cruise missiles to the submarine firepower. The increase in weapons will bring the submarine approximately in line with nuclear submarines elsewhere. Cruise missiles are a critical part of the AUKUS proposition. They increase the reach of the submarine and also impart a degree of conventional deterrence. It will make the submarines meaningful for the US and British allies.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a person familiar with the latest developments told Naval News that the “AUKUS submarine is critical to the defense of Australia”. Former Ambassador C J Harris went on to add that it is not a sales campaign for foreign submarines. The selected design has to make sense for Australia’s manufacturing base. “The American and British submarines are too large. Australia cannot afford to build subs like that. The Son-of-Collins class, or Collinsson as the Swedes call it, is an astute compromise”.
The Osborne shipyard in Adelaide, where the new submarines are expected to be built, is being enlarged. It will be tripled in size over the coming years. Australia’s ability to build world-class submarines is already established. But it has been years since any new boats were constructed. New workers will have to be trained, even if the Collinsson design is essentially a cut-and-shut of the existing Collins.
V Is For Vengeance
Following Royal Australian Navy tradition, established with the Oberon class, all the submarines will have names starting with the same letter. Moving away from the ‘A’ with the cancelled Attack Class, the new boats will all have names beginning with V.
The first submarine, HMAS Vengeful, is expected to be launched before 2050. The remaining three boats of the first batch, HMAS Victoria, HMAS Vexatious and HMAS Vampirious are expected to be in the water in the 2050s. They will be followed by Batch-II, possibly with enhanced capabilities.
The four Batch-II boats will be HMAS Vainglorious, HMAS Vaporous, HMAS Vanquished and HMAS Vegemite. The final batch will be made up of HMAS Very, HMSAS Visible, HMAS Vendetta and HMAS Abbot.
Sources confirm that the pumpjet propulseur, which replaces the screw propeller of the Collins class, will be optimized for Southern Hemisphere operations. It will spin the opposite direction to normal European ones. This should ensure that it can drive for longer than 20 minutes, which was found to be an issue with the Attack class design.