Ten years after the intention to replace and double the size of Australia’s submarine fleet was disclosed in the 2009 Defence White Paper, construction of the first of 12 conventionally-powered Attack-class boats under Project Sea 1000 is set to begin in 2023.
All being well, the first-of-type will eventually be launched in 2030 and undergo harbour acceptance trials. These will be followed by 18 months of contractor sea trials, including a docking period if required, that will culminate in delivery to the RAN in 2032.
This does not mean the first of the 4,700-tonne so-called Future Submarines will then be combat-ready.
Up to three years of rigorous test, evaluation and fine-tuning will follow until the boat is assessed as ready for its full range of operational tasking and able to replace one of the RAN’s six ageing Collins-class submarines.
The completion date for the 12th and final Attack-class boat will depend on the drumbeat of construction but is expected to be in the 2050s, although build could be accelerated contingent on future requirements and capabilities.
Any delivery rate must not only match the RAN’s ability to crew the new boats, but also slot into the long-term rolling acquisition naval shipbuilding program to ensure there is no unintended gap between completion of the Attack-class and work starting on the class’s replacement.
That milestone will mark the end of an extended acquisition program costing an estimated $50 billion that will have included combat system development and equipment, land-based test and integration, science and technology, training systems, infrastructure, and integrated logistic support. A further $50 billion (on a constant price basis) is anticipated for sustainment costs through to 2080.
The Sea 1000 program should have begun, some believe, in 2005 to achieve the in-service date of around 2025 referred to in the 2009 Defence Capability Plan (DCP) that followed the White Paper of the same year.
It’s understood that Defence did in fact propose this early start to then-Defence Minister Robert Hill, who decided instead that the focus should remain on remedying problems with the Collins-class fleet in being.
A Sea 1000 project office was eventually established in October 2008 within the then-Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) and four months later Rear Admiral Rowan Moffitt, author of a searching review into issues affecting the sustainability of the RAN’s submarine workforce, was appointed as its head.
As depicted in the 2009 White Paper the new “regionally-superior” submarines would be conventionally-powered and boast longer range; greater endurance; and support more missions and provide more capabilities, including land strike, than their 3,350-tonne predecessors. In short, a prescription for a potent system beyond the capabilities of any existing diesel-electric contender.
The following four years were notable for an almost total lack of political guidance, although the small and underfunded project office continued gathering information on Future Submarine options and assessing their technologies and relevance to Australia’s strategic circumstances.
According to informed sources, RADM Moffitt’s first meeting with the National Security Committee (NSC) of Cabinet was scheduled for November 2009, six months after publication of the White Paper.
This initial meeting was to ascertain the time by which all 12 Future Submarines were required, seek clarification of strategic objectives, explain the broad options being pursued by the project office, and obtain appropriate funding.
That meeting did not take place, nor did anticipated discussions in 2010.
In May 2011 RADM Moffitt told a parliamentary committee that a meeting with the NSC was ‘’relatively imminent” and he was ready with a range of questions that would allow the program to move forward.
Nonetheless, it was not until March 2012 that Sea 1000 was finally discussed by the NSC, which considered a submission by the project office on its findings to date, its proposed methodology going forward, preliminary cost, capability and schedule, and broad risk profiles on the choice of platform.
This comprised either an entirely new design (at that time considered high risk and unlikely); a Military Off-The-Shelf (MOTS) acquisition of an existing design; modification of a MOTS platform with Australian-selected systems; or a major evolution of a MOTS design, including Collins.
By July 2014 the ambitious 2009 requirement for a boat with significantly greater performance than Collins had been amended to the absolute minimum of a boat with Collins-like range, speed and endurance, but with improved stealth and enhanced sensors.
Even matching Collins’ capabilities meant Sea 1000 contenders would require a range of around 10,000 nautical miles (18,500 km) at 10 knots together with an endurance of around 70 days to deploy, remain on station and return from areas of operational interest in Northeast and Southeast Asia.
This had the effect of removing any further consideration of MOTS options (Navantia’s S-80, DCNS’ Scorpene and Germany’s HDW Type 214), all of which were assessed as unsuited to Australia’s geography and the distances involved.
A subsequent flurry of activity saw ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) pressing the case for its developmental 4,000-tonne Type 216 and DCNS of France proposing the redesign of its 5,300-tonne Barracuda-class nuclear attack submarine into a conventionally-powered platform dubbed the Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A.
Saab’s takeover from TKMS in mid-2014 of Collins-class designer Kockums saw the Swedish company quickly confirm its own readiness not only to involve Australian engineers and technicians in the construction of its 1,900 tonne A26 submarine, but also to design a 4,000 tonne variant specifically for Sea 1000.
Meanwhile it had become apparent that Liberal Party Prime Minister Tony Abbott was pressing for an early decision in favour of Japan’s in-service 4,200 tonne Soryu class, driven by a close relationship with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe and a desire to deepen strategic and trade relations with Tokyo.
In February 2015 the Abbott government rejected repeated calls for an open tender, opting instead for a controversial 10-month Competitive Evaluation Process (CEP) in which the French, German and Japanese contenders would compete for selection as Sea 1000’s international design partner.
Saab was not considered because its Kockums subsidiary had not built a submarine since 1996, said Defence Minister Kevin Andrews, the sixth holder of that position since the establishment of the Sea 1000 Project Office seven years earlier. Saab subsequently pointed out - without avail – that Kockums had actually delivered six submarines since 1996, the latest of which was commissioned in 2013.
Andrews initially struggled to explain how the CEP would work, when it would take place, and what kind of cost and capability considerations the government would include.
Although this early confusion was shared in both official and industry circles, the CEP got underway in late February 2015 and information-gathering continued until November 2015, uninterrupted by Abbott’s displacement in September 2015 by his colleague Malcolm Turnbull and the appointment of Senator Marise Payne as Minister for Defence.
A much-delayed Defence White Paper published in February 2016 restated the key strategic requirements set out in 2014. It also confirmed that upgraded versions of the AN/BYG-1 (V) tactical and weapons control system and the Mk 48 Mod 7 CBASS (common broadband advanced sonar system) heavyweight torpedo, both jointly developed by the US and Australia and fielded exclusively by the two countries, were preferred for the combat management system and main armament.
Additionally, the White Paper stated the new submarines would also deploy advanced communications systems to link with other ships and aircraft in anti-submarine warfare operations. It did not mention the land attack cruise missile capability included in the 2009 White Paper.
Vitally, the CEP sought proposals from the three contenders for construction of the Future Submarine fleet either overseas, in Australia, and/or a hybrid approach.
However, the potential loss of marginal parliamentary seats in South Australia elicited early confirmation from the Turnbull government, subsequently re-elected in July 2016, that all 12 submarines would be built in Adelaide, the location of Commonwealth-owned Collins-class shipbuilder ASC.
Upward of 6,000 pages of data were received across the three CEP responses and subjected to detailed analysis across 12 criteria that were advised in advance to the participants.
These included capability, pre-concept design, options for overseas and domestic build, the ability to work with the eventual combat system integrator (Lockheed Martin Australia later defeated Raytheon Australia for that role in a closed tender competition), sustainment, safety and commercial issues, as well as the strategic overlay that would be created by government-to-government agreements.
Indicative costs were also sought, although accurate figures could only be developed during the design process where informed decisions would be made on cost and capability in relation to risk.
A French connection
In announcing the selection of DCNS as the program’s international partner in April 2016, Turnbull referred to the superior sensor performance and stealth characteristics offered by the Shortfin Barracuda 1A. Other considerations had included requisite range and endurance as well as cost, schedule, program execution, through-life support, and Australian industry involvement.
This decision was widely accepted as one based on technical merit rather than on so-called strategic considerations. The likelihood of the latter had diminished following Abbott’s departure from the prime ministership during the CEP information-gathering phase.
According to unconfirmed but uncontested media reports, TKMS was subsequently informed by a Defence debriefing team that its proposed Type 216 design would produce an unacceptable level of radiated noise at a specific frequency.
The Defence team also reportedly expressed reservations about the safety of the lithium-ion batteries proposed by TKMS; also about the company’s ability to build and power a submarine that would be almost double the size of its largest boat to date, the 2,177 tonne Dolphin II class.
Japanese defence officials were told that the noise level and other stealth indicators of their proposed evolution of the Soryu-class did not meet Australian requirements, the reports said.
Some Soryu attributes were assessed as less capable than those already deployed on Collins, while their country’s inexperience in designing and constructing a submarine for an overseas navy was seen as a disadvantage.
The pre-concept design for the Shortfin Barracuda 1A envisaged a boat 97 metres long equipped with four diesel alternators to generate electricity, a large permanent magnet motor, hydroplanes that could retract to reduce noise and drag, and a pump jet propulsor instead of a propeller to reduce radiated noise and avoid cavitation, particularly at higher speeds.
The diesel-electric propulsion system would feature lead-acid batteries rather than the lithium-ion type that had been proposed by the German and Japanese contenders, although a later move to lithium-ion was acknowledged as an option.
Gerard Autret, chief naval architect of the Shortfin Barracuda, emphasised that the Future Submarine would not be a conversion of the nuclear-powered Barracuda, but a new design using the Barracuda as its design reference.
Known references would be utilised on matters such as hull diameter, length and steel, manoeuverability, drag and acoustic performances, and the suitability of ship control, electrical, hydraulic, sonar, sensor, habitability, weapons storage, cooling, and ancillary platform systems.
For batteries and voltage, power generation (induction and diesel generators) and propulsion (main electric motor), the design references would come either from DCNS’s Scorpene class or from an existing submarine technology within the company.
This would avoid years of design studies for equipment validation and allow margins for higher performances elsewhere in the boat.
“One submarine is not converted to another. Rather, a design reference is selected and an iteration of a new design is developed to meet the requirement with interpolation of known data and the re-use of proven technologies,” Autret said.
While Australia had built up its ability within the Sea 1000 project office to develop its own pre-concept design and to compile a set of realistic requirements, the CEP was intended to select an international partner with the skillset not only to design submarines to Australian specifications, but to build and commission them into service.
“The requirements we set were not purely aspirations, they were a set of very specific objectives that could be met in terms of the technologies that would be available, and not in a way that we were pushing technology on every front, as arguably we did with Collins,” stated Rear Admiral Greg Sammut, a former Collins-class commander and Director General of Submarine Capability within the RAN’s Strategic Command, who succeeded RADM Moffitt as head of the Future Submarine Program in 2013.
“We’ll begin to know things about the submarine because of that early design work, such as its length. The pre-concept design offered by DCNS predicates the hull length at 97 metres, but that doesn’t reflect decision-making on issues such as the diesel engines and the main motor. These have a large bearing on the submarine’s size.”
Detailed program planning would be undertaken in parallel to establish the schedules and tools necessary to support the design process and ensure the availability of an appropriate earned value management system.
Other detailed planning would involve build, test and integration facilities as well as the infrastructure that would be required to support the Australian build – lessons learnt the hard way from Collins construction.
“We’ll make the best technology choices that match the range of operations our submarines undertake, not because a particular technology has a particular application in a particular navy,” stated RADM Sammut.
Stephen Johnson, General Manager Submarines in CASG from November 2015 until May 2019 and a US Navy Rear Admiral (Rt’d) who had inter alia headed the Ohio class ballistic submarine replacement program and was involved in the ill-fated Sea Wolf program, commented at the time that “you can’t take a nuclear submarine design and put a diesel engine in it”.
From nuclear to diesel
However, there were significant benefits that would flow from DCNS producing a separate albeit nuclear-powered submarine of similar diameter (8.8 metres) and length (99.4 metres), and having access to that design team.
“That means the cooling and the generation systems are already about right, galley arrangements are about right, the hydraulic power plan to steer the boat is about right; they’re already in production, and that’s a tremendous advantage as is our access to the Barracuda’s design team,” Johnson noted.
A three-year $500 million Design and Mobilisation contract signed with DCNS in September 2016 covered early design activities, moving into the preliminary design stage towards the end of that period. This was to include studies to inform the selection of key equipment.
The initial focus was on moving a DCNS team to Adelaide and an Australian team – now 40-strong - to Cherbourg, and readying the appropriate facilities, including secure communications and IT systems supporting design activities in Australia and France.
In June 2017 DCNS changed its name to Naval Group, although its shareholding as a private company remained unchanged with the French state holding 62.49 per cent of equity, Thales 35 per cent, and company and employees’ shares accounting for the remaining 2.51 per cent.
Currently included in the Cherbourg team are 19 engineers from Naval Group Australia (NGA) and six personnel from Lockheed Martin Australia who are working and undertaking specific submarine design training alongside their French counterparts.
Concept design under the Design and Mobilisation contract was completed in January 2019 in the wake of a concept studies review in late 2018 that found no significant areas of concern.
“Each phase of design builds on the previous phase and what we want to ensure is that the previous phase of design is correct and balanced,” explained RADM Sammut.
“Now we’re looking at the ability of the critical systems as they become known in greater detail, making sure that they continue to meet agreed requirements so that the boat stays in balance.
“As we get more details from suppliers about equipment performances, we check and ensure that those performances will be able to meet our most important requirements. There’s a fairly rigorous process of ensuring that we don’t take the design further until we know the design at this point is balanced.
“That’s a successive process, we’ll do that again when we get to the next level of detail and then we’ll do it again at the following level.”
Germany’s MTU was named in early 2019 as supplier of the diesel generators that turn mechanised energy into electricity. Suppliers of the main electric motor, main DC switchboards, main storage batteries and weapons discharge systems, all of which will contribute to the design solution, will be announced late in 2019.
“We have a systems requirements review in the fourth quarter of 2019 to ensure we’re making defensible decisions about the trade-off between capability and cost, and a systems functional review in the first quarter of 2021,” explained RADM Sammut. “Then we have the preliminary design review scheduled for 2023”.
Program momentum continued to grow with the signature in March 2019 with NGA of the Submarine Design Contract with an initial work scope of $605 million.
This funding covers basic design activities running to 2021-22 that will largely define the submarine that will be built. Approval has already been received under the same contract for a second design component that will take work through to 2023.
The March contract was the first to be executed under an overarching Strategic Partnering Agreement (SPA) signed the previous month. This set out terms and conditions between NGA and the Commonwealth that will endure for the entire Sea 1000 programme, thus avoiding the need to negotiate transitioning phases from scratch.
Negotiations on the SPA began in early 2017 and were intended to be completed that year. Discussions were drawn out by sensitive issues that included the length of warranty periods to cover potential defects, and the implications for the transfer of intellectual property rights in the event of a merger between NGA parent company Naval Group and Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri.
A change in NGA’s leadership during the tail-end of negotiations saw the appointment in July 2018 of John Davis as CEO and Future Submarine Programme Director, replacing interim CEO Brent Clark.
Clark had stepped in as interim CEO following the resignation of Sean Costello in March 2017, less than a year after NGA won the Sea 1000 contract.
Davis’ background includes roles with Raytheon Australia, the Air Warfare Destroyer programme, BMT Defence Services, and 14 years with the UK Ministry for Defence, the latter in senior technical and project positions involving nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines.
Sources told ADM that SPA agreement had been reached in December 2018 on an exit clause under which the Commonwealth could terminate its agreement with NGA without cost should delivery of the first of the 12 Attack-class submarines be more than two years late or costs rise by more than 25 per cent.
Design work had meanwhile continued without interruption under the Design and Mobilisation contract signed in September 2016.
This included preparations for Attack-class construction at the Commonwealth-owned Osborne North naval shipyard. The first sod was turned in December 2918 and work is now underway on the land-based propulsion test facility and the combat system physical integration facility. Work on the construction halls, blast and pain workshops, warehousing and other facilities will start in the second quarter of 2020.
Assuming the conceptual and preliminary design phases are finished in the next three years, detailed design including production drawings and systemic plans should be completed by the mid-2020s, RADM Sammut said.
“In the early 2020s we should be in a position to begin producing the cans (hull sections) because the hull diameter and hull length will already be known – you’re not going to change the hull diameter when you’re into detailed design.
“But we want to get to 85 per cent maturity of production drawings before we start detailed production, probably in about 2024, producing the things that go in the cans. Collins construction got under way with only 10 per cent of production drawings completed.”
Although some 1,100 direct jobs are forecast to be generated by Future Submarine construction with another 1,700 involved in the supply chain, producing the hull itself would be an automated process taking no more than 30 people in total, Johnson explained.
“You never rush it, you want to make as steady an effort as you can. We’ll try and build as much of the submarine as we can outside the hull, then we’re in a position to start producing the rafts that slide into the cans out to around 2026; Collins was the first submarine where that was done in a really sophisticated way.
“The hull is not the big thing, it’s those rafts and installing, integrating and testing the equipment on them before it all goes into the hull. That’s where the real efficiencies are, and the work, and the people, and the cost.”
Meanwhile DST scientists have already been working for nearly a decade on understanding and assessing the materials likely to be used in Attack-class construction.
The Collins-class hulls were constructed from a high-tensile micro-alloy created by Swedish specialist steel manufacturer SSAB but subsequently modified for Australian manufacture and produced by Wollongong company Bisalloy Steels, the country’s only producer of high strength quenched and tempered steel plate, and steelmaker Bluescope.
Benefitting from that experience, in February this year Bisalloy received an initial order from Naval Group for 250 tonnes of HLES high performance steel plate as used in the Barracuda class. This will be utilised in the first of up to three qualification phases which will test the company’s ability to maintain quality in production, having earlier demonstrated that its steel meets the relevant specifications.
Utilising HLES steel, hopefully produced in Australia, will allow some of the structural design of the Barracuda to be reused without modification for the Attack-class, reducing risk in the design process and benefiting potential certification.
Combat Systems Integration
Although Raytheon Australia had supported the Collins-class combat system for more than a decade, in winning the combat system integration role Lockheed Martin clearly benefitted from its role as sole combat system integrator for the US Navy’s entire submarine fleet, and the reach-back that will provide.
Lockheed Martin Australia executives said the company’s proposal included a technical solution to US security requirements to fully integrate the AN/BYG-1 tactical and weapon control system into the Future Submarine combat system.
The solution is believed to involve Lockheed Martin’s ARCI (Acoustic Rapid COTS Insertion) program. The open architecture ARCI design exploits commercial processing improvements and would eliminate the requirement for any security interface between its processors and the AN-BYG-1.
Now engrossed in the combat system design phase, Lockheed Martin provides advice directly to NGA on the installation issues and power generation requirements of prospective major sub-systems including sonar, communications and masts.
NGA then assesses any changes to the hull that might be necessary and the two companies jointly advise Defence of which candidate system in their view best meets the Commonwealth’s requirements, together with any ramifications for submarine production.
Given that the launch of the first-of-class Attack boat is expected in 2030, anticipated construction time for the first boat is eight years. This was taking into account the fact that submarines had not been built in Australia since the last of the Collins class was delivered in 2003, RADM Sammut acknowledged.
Construction time would certainly improve with experience, and although the completion date of the last-of-class had yet to be decided, the construction drumbeat could certainly be increased, amid current speculation that completion may not be until the 2050s. A drumbeat of a new boat every two to three years is the common assumption at this point.
“We do want the yard to have the ability to improve the rate of production – we’ll probably have three boats in various stages of build at any one time - and you would settle down to a drumbeat based on the number of workers required to deliver a boat within a certain timeframe,” RADM Sammut commented.
“But you come to the point where you can’t keep throwing in people to increase the rate of production; there are only so many people you can fit in a yard before they start tripping over each other.
“That was a good lesson for the Air Warfare Destroyer program; we actually got better at building the ships not by adding people but by getting more efficient in the way we produced them.”
As this article reached deadline, ADM learnt that RADM Sammut, acting General Manager Submarines following Stephen Johnson’s return to the US in May, would shortly be confirmed in that role reporting to Tony Fraser, Deputy Secretary Capability Acquisition and Sustainment, through Tony Dalton, Deputy Secretary National Naval Shipbuilding.
Assuming RADM Sammut takes over Johnston’s responsibilities as well as his title, his extended workscope will cover both Sea 1000 and the Collins-class program, a full dance card considering 5+1 of the Collins boats will be undergoing a substantial Life of Type Extension (LOTE) during the Attack program.
This article first appeared in the October 2019 edition of ADM.