The Strategist Six: Greg Sammut
31 Oct 2017|

Welcome to The Strategist Six, a feature that provides a glimpse into the thinking of academics, government officials, military officers, reporters and interesting individuals from around the world.

How long will the Collins-class submarines operate and, in retrospect, how should Australians view the Collins program?

The new submarine is entering service from the early 2030s. The Collins class will be our primary capability into the 2030s. We’ve always made it clear that it’ll be necessary to extend its life. There’s nothing preventing us doing that. Collins is employed on operations today and I believe it is regionally superior. With the Collins, we took the audacious and very successful step to manufacture submarines in Australia. I think we overlook too often the successes achieved in delivering a fleet of very capable submarines. Now that appropriate support and sustainment arrangements are in place, we’re seeing a world-class submarine that meets Australia’s expectations.

Given the current debate, is the future submarine a new design and could an existing submarine have been bought ‘off the shelf’?

It’s a new design, as any conventional submarine to meet our capability requirements would have to be. That doesn’t mean it’s devoid of the lineage of Naval Group designs that have preceded it—and, in particular, the Barracuda design as a reference. We’re also drawing on Naval Group’s experience in designing conventional submarines. After years of research, we couldn’t find a military-off-the-shelf submarine to meet Australia’s requirements. We need a submarine with the range and endurance of Collins to operate where we believe submarines need to operate. We have to improve stealth and sensor performance in a submarine that will operate into the 2070s.

What’s the design and construction schedule and when will the submarines be delivered?

A key lesson from the Collins program, and many shipbuilding programs, is to ensure we have a mature design before construction commences. We began construction of the Collins with less than 10% of production drawings and detailed design complete. This time we’ll ensure we have high design maturity before the build.

Work on establishing the dimensions of the submarine is complete. That pre-sizing—the initial length, diameter, displacement and other key parameters—is crucial to ensure the submarine remains balanced as the design proceeds and increasing requirements are considered. Nobody wants a submarine that becomes too large in trying to meet too many requirements.

We’re currently in concept design, which will lead into preliminary design and then detailed design and a very effective plan for how the submarine will be built. There’ll be a lot of testing in laboratories and on land-based test sites. We’ll also need prototyping so that when we start construction we’ll have a practised workforce and proven methods. Three key facilities to be completed by mid-2021 include the land-based site to integrate and test the main motor, the batteries, the diesel generators, the DC switchboard and the platform management system which will control all of that and knit it together before it’s installed in the submarine. The combat system will be built and tested on a raft in a physical integration facility and then inserted into the submarine as the boat is built. That will ensure it works well and allows a high level of security. We need a hull construction hall built by mid-2021 to train the workforce. We should commence construction in around 2023, ramping up to construction of the modules that will go into those hulls and aiming to deliver the submarine in 2032. We’re allowing about 36 months before starting the second submarine so that we can fold what we learn on the first boat into the second. Then we’ll go into, probably, a two-year drumbeat for commencement of construction of the remainder. There’s no time to waste now.

Will all the submarines be built in Australia and why was Naval Group chosen as a partner?

Many people think we’re going to build them in France. We’re not. We’ll build all 12 in Australia. Australians must be involved in all stages of the design and construction of the yard itself and the submarine, the supply chain and the integration and testing of platforms and combat systems as we go through the design process. Without the ability to do those things on our terms, we lack true sovereignty and the ability to upgrade and deploy the submarines when and as we must.

To ensure we have the sovereign capability to sustain the submarines through their lives, we must maximise Australian industry’s involvement. That’s not simply done by mandating a level. By most accepted figures, we had between 67% and 70% involvement in the Collins, but we didn’t emerge from the acquisition phase with a sovereign capacity to operate and sustain the submarines. That took many years of hard work. We need to get that right from the beginning. A key driver of the choice of Naval Group was capability and the assessment that it offered us the best opportunity to design and deliver a regionally superior submarine and, importantly, one over which we have the sovereign capacity to operate and sustain over its life. This could not be simply a commercial relationship. It always had to be backed by a treaty-level government arrangement between our country and the home nation of our partner. We’re developing plans for technology transfer.

Are you converting a nuclear-powered Barracuda submarine to conventional power and might a switch be made to nuclear power in the future?

You can’t convert a nuclear submarine to a conventional submarine. That’s why we have a deliberate design process. The Barracuda is a reference design. Many calculations and methods used to develop the Barracuda can be reemployed effectively in the future submarine. That’s a tremendous advantage and it’s what most submarine nations do—go back to the lineage of their designs and take them forward. There’s no plan to switch to nuclear power. Before we can contemplate a nuclear-powered fleet, there’d need to be a much broader policy debate about nuclear power itself.

Is there any doubt about using pump-jet propulsion, will the submarine use air-independent propulsion and lithium-ion batteries and will it have a land-strike capability?

We are using pump-jet propulsion that was offered by France. Some claims about the pump jet are misleading. It’s not purely for use in nuclear submarines. It can be efficient across the entire speed range, taking account of the submarine’s size, the speed required and stealth. It needs to be tuned to the hull of the submarine. The hull needs to be tuned to the pump jet. We did not specify that the boat should have or not have air-independent propulsion or lithium-ion batteries, rather that it met our requirements. We’ll continue to look at all applicable technologies as we go through the design process. The government did not require a land-strike capability. The future submarine is being designed to fulfil key roles, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], and special operations.