Naval shipbuilding in Australia: into the digital age
1 Mar 2016|

Essen - ThyssenKrupp Quartier Q1 02

SEA 1000 boils down to a straight-forward project for those who know how to deliver submarines in the export market to an overseas  techno-culture, and a very difficult project for those who don’t. The project has the potential to pull Australia’s naval shipbuilding into the digital age and set it on a reform path into the future. Or it could spell the end for domestic shipbuilding. The choice mustn’t be about submarine designs or strategic alliances; it must be about selecting the right submarine partner to work with Australia.

tkMS has delivered 163 submarines since 1960 to 20 navies (including 6 NATO navies) across the world who often operate in demanding environments similar to Australia, and built 51 submarines in 7 navies’ own countries. Most are highly customised designs and, like Australia, these submarines are required to be interoperable with the major maritime allies.

Much has been said about the size of the boats. While size isn’t a capability, it is the sum of capabilities. tkMS detected a trend to larger submarines driven by longer range and endurance requirements and the company commenced a concept design. By the time SEA 1000 started we had accumulated over five years of experience in design, testing and verification. Over 80% of the systems and equipment planned for Australia’s future submarine are proven at sea.

tkMS knows how to design and build big submarines. Modern digital design tools and the application of simulation software for testing hydrodynamics, noise signature and manoeuvrability ensure potential problems impacting the design specification are highlighted before the first steel is cut. An extensive network of tertiary and industrial research supports the tkMS design function. Submarines are an elite German defence capability, and have been declared a strategic technology by the German government.

Germany has set the pace for technologies in Air Independent Propulsion (AIP), diesel engines, propulsion motors and stealth technologies, all driven by the intensity of ‘Cold War’-like operations in the Baltic, North Atlantic and Mediterranean operating areas. Germany’s capacity has been repeatedly proven in NATO exercises and operations—without question the ‘A League’ of submarine operations, and activities an alliance to which Australia is an ‘enhanced partner’.

Without question data integrity is the holy grail of complex naval shipbuilding. tkMS is one of only a handful of modern submarine companies that design and build submarines in an Integrated Product Development and Support Environment (IPDSE). This Digital Shipyard™ enables submarine design, production and sustainment to be integrated as part of a seamless digital thread.

Companies like Electric Boat, Newport News Shipbuilding and Lockheed Martin have embraced the technology. tkKMS is using the Digital Shipyard™ to build eight submarines of four different designs, and to perform maintenance on another two boats. The life-cycle is already planned and sustainment programs are scheduled.

Why would anyone not want to design, build, test and verify the submarine and submarine production line before any physical material is assembled? IPDSE is the ultimate risk mitigation process. The SEA 1000 project must embrace this technology or it will struggle to shake off the problems that have plagued naval shipbuilding in Australia over recent years.

tkMS’s preference to build all submarines in Australia isn’t based on marketing whimsy. The reason tkMS prefers this option is because we are the only contender that will have an integrated tried and tested IPDSE for the build program. With such technology, production risks are mitigated to an extent that the geographical location of the shipyard no longer poses a significant project risk.

The ability to build all submarines in Australia ensures sensitive technology will be under Australian management from day one. There’s no risk of compromise as the only people with access to the US Combat Management System or weapons data will be security-cleared Australian or American citizens. By comparison the hybrid build option introduces greater security risk. Adherence to internationally agreed best practice cyber security doctrines will ensure all sensitive data is protected regardless of its location—Australia, Germany or the USA.

Andrew Davies is off-base on Lithium-ion batteries, which have been developed by TKMS over a number of years. Such a battery was successfully trialled in the Planet Solar, a solar powered trimaran that sailed around the world. New safer chemistry is undergoing trials and will be at Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 9 for the Future Submarine Project. Andrew also misunderstood the energy density difference between batteries (lead or lithium) and a reformer-fed AIP System. AIP reduces the snort frequency significantly. While it’s not critical in peacetime operations it becomes a matter of life or death in a hostile or highly-contested patrol area.

Mark Thomson’s questioning of Rough Order of Magnitude estimates from the CEP might be true of Japan or DCNS, but tkMS’s ‘hot production line’ is overlooked by Mark. tkMS’s cost includes 28,000 line items interrogated and scaled as necessary using tried and tested methods to arrive at a cost. The 163 submarines contracted by tkMS have all been on a fixed price. While it’s difficult for stop-start production lines to maintain meaningful supply chain data, tkMS doesn’t have that problem.

Commentators who question the efficacy of the CEP are wide of the mark. It will identify the best submarine partner provided they possess experience across these key conditions:

  •         A track record of exporting submarine technology
  •         English as the technical language used in the exporting shipyard
  •         The partner has a current hot production line
  •         The partner employs at least 800 submarine technologists with a minimum of 10 years of experience
  •         A parent navy relationship
  •         A binding Government commitment to Australia

If these criteria were applied we would have avoided problems with both the Collins-class and the Air Warfare Destroyers. tkMS and Germany meet all of these criteria and without question are a safe pair of hands. If Australia wants to get it right and reform naval shipbuilding tkMS has the right credentials for the job.