The combat system, weapons and unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) options selected for any submarine design under consideration to meet the SEA 1000 requirement for the Royal Australian Navy, will, as much as the design itself, shape the capabilities of this planned class. These 12 future submarines may well remain in service until the 2070s. With the SEA 1000 program predicted to be Australia’s most expensive defense procurement ever, these decisions will be as financially significant as they are likely to be long-lasting.
The SEA 1000 submarine program is currently in the concept design phase of development. The preliminary design phase is to get under way in 2011, followed by detailed design in 2013, with construction to start in 2017 and the first unit to enter service in 2024. The SEA 1000 program will take place in parallel with multiple programs supporting the six current RAN Collins class submarines that will be upgraded until 2017, with the first unit scheduled to be withdrawn from service in 2025. The overlap of the two designs in service, and the challenges inherent in expanding the RAN submarine force are among the factors that will certainly influence the impending decisions on selection of a submarine design to meet the SEA 1000 requirement and what combat system and other material will be procured to equip them.
SELECTION OF SYSTEMS
Whether the SEA 1000 submarines will be a new Australian design, a modified Collins design or a foreign design modified to meet Australian requirements has not yet been determined. This decision will shape the subsequent selection of a combat system and other equipment. What has been determined is that under current planning, as announced in May 2009, the submarines must be assembled at Adelaide.
While all these design options remain open, the consensus of opinion if that the most likely result is that the design will come from ASC, the Australian submarine systems integrator, a government-owned concern that is the last remaining Australian-owned defense prime contractor. ASC’s Adelaide-based design authority was created for the Collins class program. The SEA 1000 design is likely to reflect the high value the RAN in general and its submarine force in particular place on cooperation with the US. Decisions on the design, the combat system and other major equipment options will also likely put a premium on getting the maximum leverage from investments Australia has made in submarine-related research and development programs. Australia has been a partner in adapting and developing US systems for the Collins class. This includes the Replacement Combat System (RCS), using the US AN/BYG-1(V)8 Combat Control System (CCS) and Mk 48 Mk 7 Advanced Capability (ADCAP) Common Broadband Advanced Sonar System (CBASS) torpedo, which is also in service with the US Navy. The close-knit relationship with the US in research and development and operations is likely to be weighed in deciding which combat system and equipment is selected for the SEA 1000 submarine.
The SEA 1000 requirement is likely to result in a new submarine design emphasizing interoperability with both the Collins class and US forces, which mitigates against the selection of a foreign solution. A foreign design could also lead to two different training standards being required, increasing personnel problems. The RAN has found it difficult to recruit, train and retain personnel for the Collins class, and the increased numbers needed for 12 SEA 1000 submarines will be a challenge. Dependence on foreign suppliers and support to sustain an off-the-shelf foreign designed system, plus the technology transfer issues that make exporters of such systems reluctant to transfer software source codes, was one reason Australia had originally decided to use a combat system on the Collins class with substantial local input. In particular the companies Rockwell (combat system), Thales (sonar) and CSC (fire control system) either used, or established, local subsidiaries to contribute to Australian self-reliance.
While an Australian design with strong US technology inclusion appears the most likely option, it is theoretically possible that the RAN 1000 requirement could be met by a third option. A foreign design could still be assembled in Adelaide with major components, including a combat system and other equipment, produced elsewhere. While it would be difficult for such a submarine to meet the 70-percent Australian industry content of the Collins class, cost considerations could conceivably push the program in this direction. Existing submarine designs such as the German Type 214, Swedish A26, Spanish S-80A and French Scorpene have been considered possible SEA 1000 options. On 27 January, 2010, Australia’s defence material minister, Greg Combet, told a conference in Sydney that an off-the-shelf design was being considered along with a new design and an upgraded version of the Collins class.
While a proven design presents advantages, the RAN has unique requirements for range, submerged endurance, speed and payload that current submarines are unlikely be able to fully provide. These requirements are a reason why the Collins class, at 3,000 tonnes (surfaced), is amongst the world’s largest conventional submarines and the SEA 1000 craft might displace as much as 4,500 tonnes. A 2009 study tour by the RAN and Australia’s Defense Material Organization (DMO) reportedly led to the conclusion that current designs would not meet the specification’s requirements. Joel Fitzgibbon, the former defence minister, has made statements about the limitations of “off-the-shelf” solutions and that “an emerging need for a substantive development project” appears to be required. However, even if an existing foreign submarine design is not chosen, Australia might wish to reduce cost and risk by considering integrating a foreign combat system or other major elements of equipment.
COMBAT SYSTEMS AND SENSORS
The combat system selected for the SEA 1000 submarines is likely to represent a follow-on to the Replacement Combat System (RCS) of the Collins class. An Armament Cooperative Program (ACP) for submarine combat system development was established with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the US in December 2007. This established a relationship that continues past the design and installation of the RCS. This means that the ongoing US program to upgrade the AN/BYG-1 system can provide upgrades that are also usable by Australia. This combat system, continuously upgraded, is likely to remain the US Navy’s standard for the foreseeable future as it uses commercial off the shelf (COTS) components and open system standards, intended to operate in a networked environment. The US is committed to upgrade this system under a technology insertion program (TIP). Advanced Processing Builds (APBs) for both tactical control and weapons control are currently funded.
The emerging competition between combat systems integrators for the SEA 1000 programs suggests that they share a perception that it will not be an off-the-shelf foreign system Raytheon Australia and Lockheed Martin Australia (teaming with Australia’s Acacia Research) are amongst those to announce they will compete for the combat systems integrator role for SEA 1000 submarine. Raytheon in particular has had a long involvement with Collins, having acquired the original combat system via Boeing, which in turn had purchased the business from Rockwell.
The foreign combat system most likely to be of direct interest of Australia is the Submarine Combat Management system from the Spanish S-80A, developed in cooperation with Lockheed Martin and Navantia and other Spanish industry members. Lockheed Martin provided both the sonar arrays and the “back end” system. Australian cooperation with both Lockheed Martin and Navantia has been established with the procurement of the SPY-1 radar and SEA 4000 air warfare destroyers. Lockheed Martin is also the designer of the Integrated Combat System (ICS) used by the German Type 214, which is derived from that developed for the S-80. The ICS is also being retrofitted to Brazil’s Type 209 Tupi-class submarines. The Scorpene class has been exported using the French DCN Submarine Tactical Integrated Combat System (SUBTICS). The A26 class combat system is the Saab 940A/B Stridsoch Eldledningssytem Ubt (Sesub) system, an upgraded version of that on the Swedish Gotland class. This could have compatibility with the Saab-developed combat systems on Australia’s ANZAC-class frigates, which have been successfully carried out integrated operations with US and other naval forces.
The RAN is currently using arguably the most advanced torpedo currently at sea that is optimized for the littoral environment, the Mk 48 Mk 7 ADCAP CBASS. The RAN adoption of this torpedo has been accompanied with much publicity, especially when, in the first live fire exercise with a CBASS warshot on 16 July 2008, HMAS Waller sank the former US destroyer Fletcher off Hawaii. It has since been operational with the US Navy.
It is likely that the RAN, like the US Navy, will continue to use the Mk 48 as its basic submarine torpedo for the foreseeable future. The joint US/Australia Armament Cooperative Project (ACP) that developed the CBASS is still ongoing. While the US Navy does not have a Mk 48 replacement program, the Office of Naval Research is looking at potential upgrade technologies through the Future Naval Capability (FNC) program which are then weaponized through the US Navy’s Torpedo TIP. Cooperation with the US gives Australia greater access to such upgrades than would be possible for the few other foreign users of the Mk 48.
In addition to torpedoes, the SEA 1000 submarine is likely to continue the Collins class’ capability of using Boeing UGM-84C Harpoon Block 1B anti-ship missiles and BAE Systems Stonefish ground mines.
The SEA 1000 submarine is also expected to include a land-attack cruise missile (LACM) capability. The 2009 Australian defense white paper stated that this capability would be incorporated in the SEA 1000 submarine. A LACM requirement would also point to the likely need to use a US-compatible system, with the Raytheon UGM-109 Tactical Tomahawk being the most likely option.
Integrating US weapons systems with foreign submarines designs that were built for national weapons may provide problematic. That could be released to Australia for incorporation in an indigenous design may not be able to be shared with the design country of an existing submarine design for integration with an off-the-shelf combat system. Weapons system integration problems, especially when software source codes are not released, can often be costly to address.
Despite this, foreign weapons systems could be alternatives for SEA 1000. Prior to the 2001 decision to cooperate with US to develop and deploy CBASS, RAN had been planning to evaluate foreign-made torpedoes, including the German DM2A4 Seehake heavyweight torpedo. A cruise missile capability could be achieved through using the Scorpene design, offering integration with the proposed MDBA SCALP Naval cruise missile which is to have a submarine-launch capability. Spain had planned to integrate the Tactical Tomahawk with its own S-80 submarines before the missile procurement was cancelled due to budgetary concerns, suggesting that this submarine design could also provide the required LACM capability. The Lockheed Martin-designed ICS could be upgraded to use Australia’s Mk 48 torpedoes and Harpoon missiles. SUBTICS has been marketed as being comparable with a range of weapons including F17, SUT266, TP617 and Black Shark torpedoes and AM39 Exocet Block 3 missiles, but not the weapons currently in RAN service. The A26 design would provide a unique armament capability with the return of the deck gun in the form of a retractable telescoping sail-mounted 30mm. The SEA 1000 requirement does not currently call for such a weapon.
UNMANNED UNDERWATER VEHICLE (UUVs)
The SEA 1000 design that is eventually selected is expected to include an UUV capability. This is likely to be integrated with the results of the DSTO’s current Project Marura. The UUVs being developed under this program include the Rapidly Deployable Sensor (RDS), a 21-inch torpedo tube launched UUV that would allow the SEA 1000 submarine to deploy “outboard” sensor networks in a tactical situation. The Slocum Glider is an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) which has the potential of being able to carry out more extensive missions and has the benefit of Australian investment in torpedo technology.
A new submarine design would be able to incorporate these UUVs from the outset. Other than indigenous Australian programs, however, the most likely source for future UUV capability is likely to be the US, which would create integration issues if a foreign submarine or combat system design is selected for SEA 1000. US UUV research and development provides a back-up in case the Australian programs are unable to lead to a deployable capability for the timeframe when the submarines will be operational. They also have the potential to provide capabilities beyond those developed indigenously. While US UUV programs are mainly aimed at mine countermeasures (MCM), improved systems such as the Sea Glider AUV (with up to 150 to be procured), similar to the Slocom design used by the Australians, may provide the multi-mission capability the Australians desire.
Most of the UUV development by other countries has focused on providing enhanced MCM for surface ships rather than submarine capabilities. An exception is Sweden, which has a long-term requirement for AUVs to operate from its A26-class submarines. This could represent a potential alternative source of UUVs for the RAN.
The selection of combat systems and equipment for the RAN’s SEA 1000 submarines is potentially more significant than that of its basic design and propulsion system choices. While a design to meet RAN requirements, compatibility with the US Navy and avoidance of technology transfer issues are likely to point in the direction of the a system being developed in Australia with extensive US cooperation to follow-on those on the Collins class, the potential for saving through using a foreign design, either for the entire submarines or, more likely, for one or more major systems or items of equipment, is important considering the scope of the program. Money concerns will likely increase as the program advances and it competes with other priorities
Because it currently appears that an Australian-designed option is favored above a foreign submarine design, integrating a major foreign system may prove problematic, especially considering the importance place on interoperability by the RAN. Minimizing cost through mix and match capabilities and technologies is an attractive option but in practice may prove difficult to achieve. The desire to leverage Australian investment in cooperation with the US while retaining a high degree of compatibility with the Collins class is likely to be a high but not potentially insurmountable barrier any foreign combat system or equipment proposal aimed at the SEA 1000 submarine requirement..