Australian Submarine Debacle: Collins Class Duds to Operate for Another 30 Years

Australian Submarine Debacle: Collins Class Duds to Operate for Another 30 Years, by Paul Maley.

Australia may be forced to refit its entire fleet of Collins-class submarines and operate them for ­another 30 years because long ­delays in beginning construction of the navy’s 12 new subs risks eroding the nation’s strategic military edge in the region. …

Australian Strategic Policy ­Institute senior analyst Marcus Hellyer … said the plan to ­replace the six Collins subs with 12 new [French] Shortfin Barracuda models now faced long delays, due largely to a lag in initiating the project.

The DCNS Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A design is a conventionally-powered derivative of France’s nuclear-powered Suffren-class submarines.

French Shortfin Barracuda submarine. The French ones are nuclear and powerful, but the ones they’re making for us are slow and weak. Available sometime around 2050. Would you pay $220m for 12 of them? Too bad, you will be.

At a minimum, the Royal Australian Navy could expect to be operating some of its Collins subs into the 2040s, more than a decade after the navy is due to take possession of its first new sub, he said. If delays worsen, Defence could be forced to extend the life of all six Collins subs, a move that could narrow Australia’s strategic edge against newer, faster boats emerging in the region.

Mr Hellyer said the Chinese were making great strides in submarine technology, including their nuclear boats. “Those submarines essentially have unlimited range and endurance, they’re much faster than conventional subs. They have more power so they can carry a larger array of sensors and weapons,’’ he said.

“At the moment Western technology is better in terms of the quality of the weapons systems and level of noise, but we’ve seen right across the range of military technologies that the Chinese are getting better.”

Delays in starting the Future Submarines project meant that there was now “no slack in the schedule’’. “We are behind where we should have been,’’ Mr Hellyer told The Australian. “The Future Submarine process should have started earlier. That’s not a problem with the Future subs; it’s a broader problem with government and defence planning. We should have started five years ­earlier.’’

In 2016 Australia agreed to buy 12 Shortfin Barracuda submarines from the Naval Group to replace the six Collins subs, which were conceived in the 1980s and launched in 1998. …

Australia is due to take delivery of its first Shortfin Barracudas in the early 2030s, with the balance to be delivered sometime in the 2050s.

Defence had originally planned to begin retiring the Collins subs from 2025. But the option ­exists to extend their operational life for a further decade with a full-cycle docking, which takes two years.