Sea, air and land updates

Sea State

The claws are out in the battle for the Australia’s $50 billion future submarine contract, with French contender DCNS claiming last week that Japan’s plan to install high-tech lithium ion batteries in the new fleet could endanger RAN personnel. Speaking in Paris on 18 March, DCNS president, Herve Guillou, and deputy chief executive, Marie-Pierre de Bailliencourt, told journalists that lithium ion battery technology had not yet been sufficiently developed for use in submarines, and that doing so without adequate testing could be dangerous. Ms de Bailliencourt also warned that moving forward with Japan could increase Australia’s risk of being drawn into a future conflict between Japan and China, while a partnership with France would bring strategic benefits. Check out Andrew Davies’ article looking into the merits of batteries and air independent propulsion here.  

Russia announced on 18 March that it will begin construction of its new Kalina-class diesel-electric submarines after its final two Lada-class submarines are completed in 2019. Little information is available on the new generation Kalina-class, but Moscow does intend to install air independent propulsion systems on the vessels, a feature found on many Western diesel boats, but not incorporated on the Lada-class. The Project 677 Lada-class was considered a disappointment by many, and has now been terminated by Moscow with only three boats built.  

Flight Path

The US Air Force is stretched thin. Well, at least that’s what a top USAF General has said to the Senate Armed Services Committee. General Herbert Carlisle said that the USAF needs 511 more fighter jet pilots and an additional 200 drones to adequately carry out current missions. Air Force Times has looked at the long-term needs of the USAF and how the desired growth can be paid for.

On the future of the USAF, Vice News has published an article critically examining the decision to shut down production of the F-22—arguing that the Air Force is at risk of findings itself at a disadvantage against modern Russian and Chinese fighter jets over the next few decades until the F-35 is in full operational service. But general manager of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, Rob Weiss, has said (perhaps unsurprisingly) that the USAF’s fifth-generation jets do maintain an advantage over their adversaries.

As we approach one year since the crash of a Germanwings A320 into the French Alps, which killed all on board, Aviation Week has released its latest podcast examining pilot mental health. Experts discuss the issues surrounding pilots’ mental health and what can be done to prevent such tragedies in the future.

Rapid Fire

On Wednesday the advanced technology company General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems revealed that it’s military railgun—the Blitzer—had successfully fired five hypersonic projectiles with accelerations more than 30,000 times that due to gravity. The electromagnetic bullets moved at six times the speed of sound (Mach 6) transferring an enormous amount of kinetic energy to the target upon impact.

And for those who are following the Serial Podcast, which follows the infamous case surrounding US Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who is facing a court-martial on charges of desertion and endangering troops after leaving his post and being captured by the Taliban in June 2009, a transcript was released publicly last week where Bergdahl explains why he walked off base. You can now read the 371 page statement Bergdahl made to the US Army’s senior investigating officer in August 2014 about his ‘fantastic plan’ to leave the base in Afghanistan. And if things couldn’t get any weirder, Bergdahl’s attorneys have requested an interview with US presidential hopeful Donald Trump to determine if he should be a witness in Bergdahl’s court martial in an effort to restrain him from defaming their client in his campaign.

SAL feature: the life and times of the Collins class submarine

This Wednesday (23 March) marks 13 years since the last of RAN’s Collins-class submarines, HMAS Rankin, was entered into service. This event commemorated a significant milestone in the history of a project that has been plagued by controversy over the last 25 years. So to mark ­­this date, we’re taking a trip down memory lane in the first of a two-part segment looking back at the history of RAN’s Collins-class project, recognising its achievements and some of its much-publicised failings.

The Collins-class project was established by the RAN in 1982, with the intention to replace the Oberon-class with unique vessels capable of travelling greater distances and operating in a variety of environments, rather than buying off-the-shelf. An all-Australian build was considered key by the Hawke Government, in order to fully support the new capability in-country. Seven manufacturers submitted tenders for the contract, in a process that, in contrast to the current process for the future submarines, included a funded study to determine the winning design. Swedish shipbuilder Kockums’ Type 471 submarine, fitted with Rockwell’s combat system, was selected in May 1987.

Construction of the first submarine, HMAS Collins, began in 1990 at the Australian Submarine Corporation’s (now ASC) facilities in Osborne, South Australia—a ‘greenfield’ site opened by PM Hawke in 1989. HMAS Collins’ construction was troubled from the outset. The vessel was commissioned in July 1996, 18 months behind schedule, due to a number of delays and problems, most notably the provision and installation of the combat system, and wasn’t approved for operational deployment until 2000. The additional five submarines, HMA Ships Farncomb, Waller, Dechaineux, Sheean and Rankin, faced similar issues, with delivery running between 21 and 41 months late, and saw the entire class not be cleared for operational service until March 2004—and fitting of a new combat system.

In response to problems, the ‘Report to the Minister for Defence on the Collins class submarine and related matters’ (the ‘McIntosh-Prescott Report’) was released in June 1999. It concluded that the Collins class appeared incapable of performing at the required level for military operations, blaming  inappropriate design requirements, and deficiencies in the structure of the contract. While it acknowledged some positive elements of the design, and recognised a number of the well-publicised problems were being fixed, it highlighted that the propulsion system, combat system and excessive noise were ongoing issues across the class, and recommended the combat system be scrapped entirely.

The report prompted the creation of a $1 billion ‘fast track’ program to bring Dechaineux and Sheean up to operational standards, followed by a retrofit of modifications to the other vessels. These modifications included high-level technology support from the US Navy and American firm Electric Boat to remedy design flaws, and the installation of the AN/BYG-1 Combat Control System by Raytheon. In December 2003, ASC signed a new multi-billion dollar ‘Through Life Support’ agreement with DMO for the ongoing design enhancements, maintenance and support through to the submarine’s end of life, and finally in December 2004 became the design authority for the Collins-class, in a move ASPI’s Patrick Walters described as a clear sign Australia’s submarine industry had come of age.

Next week in part 2…’dud subs’, ‘underwater rock bands’, availability issues, the Coles Review, and the way ahead for the Collins class.