As the number of submarines in the Indo-Pacific rises, so does the prospect that submarine rescue company JFD will be called upon to rescue submariners from a disabled boat.
That was demonstrated with the sinking of the Indonesian submarine KRI Nanggala, lost with all 53 crew in the Bali Sea in April 2021. It was determined Nanggala experienced a catastrophic implosion leaving no survivors.
JFD Australia, a subsidiary of UK-based JFD Global, has provided contracted submarine rescue services for the Royal Australian Navy since 2010.
It operates from Bibra Lake, Western Australia, and fortunately its services have never been required.
“There is one (rescue system) in Western Australia. That is our head office. That’s the RAN system. JFD also provides a system in Singapore. We also have two systems in service with the Indian Navy on the east and west coast,” JFD Australia Managing Director Cathy Falkiner told ADM at the Indo-Pacific maritime expo in Sydney.
Under the RAN contract, JFD undertakes to deploy within 12 hours, likely a lot faster. That could be aboard a RAAF C-17.
JFD also operates a NATO rescue system out of Faslane, Scotland under a tripartite agreement between the UK, France and Norway.
With lives at stake, any nation can seek international assistance in rescuing crew members from a disabled sub.
Following the loss of the Russian submarine Kursk in August 2000, the International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office (ISMERLO) was founded, and it was by way of that office that Indonesia sought assistance when Nanggala failed to report.
The US Navy has its own rescue capabilities. China, which has reportedly lost submarines, may have its own rescue systems. North Korea and Iran aren’t likely to seek western help.
Falkiner said another limitation is the submarine interface to allow the rescue vessel to dock. Even if Nanggala, built in Germany and launched in 1980, was at rescuable depth, it lacked the NATO standard hatchway interface of more modern submarines.
The rescue suite comprises ROV with sidescan sonar to locate a downed submarine and a submersible to dock with the sub to extract submariners.
If the downed submarine has leaked and is at ocean bottom pressure, rescued submariners may require treatment in a hyperbaric chamber on the rescue ship.
JFD Defence Director Richard Devlin said the highest risk period for any submarine was when it was coming out of refit.
That’s because systems have changed, and the submarine is undergoing validation testing.
Devlin said JFD business was directly related to the number of submarines in service.
“If you look at submarine projection numbers around the world based on our research, submarines are looking to almost double in fleet size over the next 20 years,” he said.
“By virtue of that, if there are more submarines operating in the world, there is arguably more risk of accident or collision. So, in that regard, there is probably more need for submarine rescue systems.”
Devlin said not every nation would buy a rescue system.
“A customer has to decide whether or not they will rely on another nation who has a system to provide that insurance policy, or they want to be masters of their own destiny.”