Sunday, December 30, 2007

Aussies Plan New "Super Subs"

It is apparent that the Royal Australian Navy "gets it", when it comes to the future of war at sea. In the past few years they have constructed what many consider the finest conventional submarines in the world, the large and powerful Collins class. As a small but technically capable minor power, Navy planners focused on what might give the country an edge over larger powers without bankrupting the defense budget. It is interesting that they skipped plans for fielding too costly supercarriers to the real capital ship at sea in the 21st Century.

Collins class sub HMAS Rankin

Now plans are ongoing to replace the 6 Collins with even more powerful undersea boats fitted with the latest nautical technology. From The Australian comes new details on these potent new warships:

New Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has ordered planning to begin on the next generation of submarines to replace the Royal Australian Navy's Collins-class fleet with the aim of gaining "first pass" approval for the design phase from cabinet's National Security Committee in 2011.

The 17-year project will be the largest, longest and most expensive defence acquisition since Federation, potentially costing up to $25 billion.

The article further details the amount of new weapons and equipment these new superships will carry, including:

  • The possibility, but unlikelihood of the new ships being fueled by nuclear power.
  • They will carry small unmanned mini-subs that can be launched from the "mother" submarines.
  • Air-independent propulsion systems (AIP), which allow them to stay underwater for longer periods.
  • Long-range weapons such as cruise missiles as well as short-range tactical land-strike missiles.
  • They will also be capable of transporting SAS squads (Australian Special Forces) into regional hot spots.
Such craft then, will maintain a regional superiority that Australia already possesses with the Collins subs. Remember that these fine Aussie boats often trounce US warships in wargames, as revealed in a much publicized episode from a few years back, where the HMAS Sheean "sank" the state-of-the-art nucear sub USS Olympia in a naval exercise.

We are reminded then of the recent Chinese Song class submarine that shadowed the carrier USS Kitty Hawk undetected. Such routine occurrences are placing at risk the expeditionary strategy which Western naval forces have been so dependent on. In a case of "having your cake and eating it too", the Aussies are going the expeditionary rout themselves, as they construct giant new carrier-like helicopter ships, and expensive Aegis destroyers to escort them.

The new subs will be expensive enough though, involving a program costing $25 billion. As I've written before, can even the richest nations afford such grandiose construction plans, also rebuilding their air forces and rearming the ground troops, while still providing generous social benefits for their citizens? Likely something will have to give.

Update-More proof of the dominance of the submarine in Australian naval thought, a former defense minister declares "Sub fleet should be doubled".