Patrick Durrant | Kiel, Germany
German Sea 1000 Future Submarine contender TKMS has reinforced its firm commitment to the program, highlighting its key strengths and citing the unprecedented level of support it has received from the German Government.
Their core team based in Australia comprises a wealth of experience, with ex-Australian submariners well represented. Deputy campaign manager and TKMS Australia CEO Philip Stanford is an ex-submariner and commanding officer of considerable experience having served on both Oberons and Collins classes. He was XO on HMAS Waller and commanded HMA submarines Dechaineaux and Rankin.
Stanford, who joined the company in July 2013, says it is a credit to TKMS that they understood the need to recruit local submarine experts from the outset.
“They knew they had to understand precisely the requirements of the customer, to be familiar with all of the nuances of such a complex project – it really demonstrates their knowledge in dealing with customers and exporting their technology,” he said.
The company sees its long record of exporting technology and facilitating foreign builds as one of its core strengths. It signed a contract with Turkey to build six submarines in 2009 and they began production in the Turkish shipyard a year ago. TKMS VP Sales Bob Budell said it was one example of TKMS upgrading a foreign shipyard to build submarines.
“Turkey has been a customer of ours for more than 40 years – we built our first submarine abroad there in 1975 and we’ve done three generations since then.”
Budell said there was a whole department dedicated towards working with foreign customers to upgrade their shipyards to build the products TKMS was selling.
“It’s just another aspect of our export focus because without export we would not be able to survive, it’s been our mainstay for the last 30 to 40 years.”
Greece is an example where the company has replicated their business on foreign shores.
“We built a shipyard there and we brought our technology, our processes, and our training and now Greece is able to design and build its own submarines.
Stanford said they had also invested in the Greek supply chain by facilitating the establishment of a battery manufacturer in-country.
The company defends this approach, despite it having worked against them on one particular occasion. TKMS shared its technology and helped the South Koreans to develop the Chang Bogo class. Now South Korea has effectively become a competitor and is in the process of exporting these submarines to Indonesia.
“It’s much easier to build a larger submarine than a smaller one because getting that much equipment into such a small package is really the big challenge.”
Putting paid to criticisms that TKMS would struggle to adapt their existing submarine designs to that of a larger Australian submarine, Budell demonstrated the evolution of German designs since the modern era of German submarine construction began in the 60s. Initially confined to tonnages in the 500 tonne range by treaty obligations, the Germans became adept at making their submarines compact and as capable as larger submarines.
“By the late 70's we were up to the 1,000 to 1,500 tonne mark and by the 90's we were into the 2,000 tonne range.”
The largest submarine they have built to date is the 2,300 tonne Dolphin AIP currently being built in the shipyard at Kiel for the Israeli Navy.
“It’s much easier to build a larger submarine than a smaller one because getting that much equipment into such a small package (the Israelis have crammed the design with as much they can possibly fit) is really the big challenge,” Budell said.
Campaign manager and former submarine commander Manfred Klein agreed saying submarine design was “more about the art of integrating everything as compactly as possible than pushing something into a given envelope”.
“On the Dolphin class for Israel we have an extremely compact boat, we would never normally integrate all of that equipment in a boat of this size but the customer wanted it and it is do-able,” he said.
Klein added that if you translated the equipment that is in that boat to what Australia would need, it did not represent a greater requirement.
“The design and construction of the pressure hull, that is the least most important thing when it comes to building a submarine,” Klein said.
“It’s simple physics, it’s welding technologies that we already work with, steel thicknesses we are familiar with. We use the same calculation programs – they apply regardless of whether you’re talking about a coke can or a ten thousand tonne submarine.”
The level of German government support has been unprecedented. Klein said typically their export contracts receive only an approval from the government.
“Here we have support on a broad basis for example when we talk about the concept and definition phase, we will even involve members of the procurement organisation of the German armed forces, bringing in their submarine experience.”
Stanford said the German government doesn’t just see this as a submarine sale.
“With technologies being offered across a range of German companies, they see this as an opportunity to improve the relationship in a broad commercial and diplomatic sense.”
Note: Patrick Durrant recently travelled to Germany as a guest of TKMS.