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Attack class Future Submarine

On 11 February 2019 the Australian Government ratified a Strategic Partnering Agreement with the French shipbuilding company Naval Group that will see 12 regionally superior submarines designed and built in Australia for the Royal Australian Navy as part of the Future Submarine Program.

Australia’s new future submarines will be known as the Attack class. Minister for Defence, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, said 13 December 2018 the first submarine will be called HMAS Attack and will be delivered to the Navy in the early 2030s. “The Attack class represents the inherent stealth, long-range endurance and lethality of a submarine,” said Minister Pyne. “I can also announce the negotiations between the Commonwealth and Naval Group on all key provisions of the Strategic Partnering Agreement (SPA) have been completed,” Minister Pyne said. “I congratulate everyone involved in achieving this significant milestone.”

Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan, said the Attack class will provide Australia with a regionally superior submarine. “The Attack class will meet the Navy’s capability needs and help protect our security and prosperity for decades to come,” said Vice Admiral Noonan The SPA will be signed in early 2019 and will govern the delivery of the Attack class over the decades to come. “Work on the design of the Attack class will continue without interruption under the Design and Mobilisation Contract which was signed on 30 September 2016.” The full range of other activities required to deliver this major program, including the development of the submarine construction yard, and the ongoing engagement of Australian industry to achieve Australian sovereignty, are also continuing.

The $50 billion Future Submarine Project is the largest and most complex defence acquisition Australia has ever undertaken. The Australian Government selected DCNS as its preferred international partner for the design of 12 Future submarines for the Royal Australian Navy. The announcement was made 26 April 2016 in Adelaide by the Australian Prime Minister the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, the Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, The Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, the Hon. Christopher Pyne and The Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett.

Under Australia's SEA1000 future submarine programme, DCNS competed with Germany's Thyssenkrupp, and Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Of the three designs, the Shortfin Barracuda was the largest, with the greatest displacement and the largest weapons store.

The Shortfin Barracuda is a smaller version of the French Navy's Barracuda nuclear-powered attack submarine. The Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A, DCNS’ proposed platform for Australia’s Future Submarines, was designed specifically for the Royal Australian Navy, and is claimed to be the world’s most advanced conventionally powered submarine. It was named after an indigenous species of the Barracuda, found in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

France offered the Australian Government complete access to the stealth technologies utilised on board French nuclear-powered general-purpose attack submarines (SSNs) and ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). These technologies are the “crown jewels” of French submarine design and have never been offered to any other country. The very nature of these stealth technologies and the decision to release them to the Australian Government is a significant demonstration of the strategic nature of this program for the French authorities.

The United States will be responsible for supplying integrated combat systems to the Future Submarines, as well as the submarine’s weapons. The collaboration between Australia, France and the United States will see DCNS providing design, technology and expertise within this sovereign framework.

The Australian government foreshadowed the purchase of 12 new conventionally powered submarines as part of its 2009 defense white paper issued on 02 May 2009. The navy's 12 next-generation submarines will be built in Adelaide, building on the successful Air Warfare Destroyer contract bid and Collins-class submarine construction and maintenance. ASC, the former Australian Submarine Corporation, was once alone at Osborne. Now Techport - a common-use facility including a wharf and dry dock - is rapidly taking shape.

The contest to build a new fleet of submarines stepped up a gear at Australia’s largest military and commercial maritime conference, Pacific 2012, with three European contenders all hawking the prowess of their vessels. The biannual Pacific 2012 international maritime exhibition was held in Sydney from 31 January to 03 February. The timing identified in the White Paper of a replacement submarine indicated a need to be available by 2025. Navantia gave several presentations on the S-80 submarine, which is a credible contender for SEA 1000. DCNS diplayed the Scorpene medium-size submarines, already chosen by the Chilean, Royal Malaysian, Indian and Brazilian Navies. Also on hand was ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, whose Kockums subsidiary played an integral role in the technology transfer of the design and construction of the Collins class to Australia.

The White Paper calls for submarines larger than the Collins - around 4000 tons - to cost up to $36 billion. Australian Defence officials revealed in November 2011 that at least two possible contenders for the navy's new submarine fleet, the Spanish S-80 and French Scorpene class boat, have been ruled out of the future submarine project. Navantia's design, the S-80, displaces 2,400 tons submerged. French shipbuilder DCNS' design, the Scorpene, displaces between 1,500 and 2,000 tons depending on configuration. Collins class submarines currently used in the Royal Australian Navy displace 3,300 tons.

In a report featured in the media on April 20, 2007 the Kokoda Foundation floated suggestions for preparations for the next generation of Australian submarines. The Collins Class submarines will be due for replacement in 2025 - which may a long way off, but according to Kokoda Foundation Ross Babbage, in order for replacements to be launched on schedule, a great deal needs to happen quickly. An initial replacement decision on their replacement by government, for example, will need to be made around 2011. This meant, according to Professor Babbage, research, studies, trials and investigations into options for the next generation of underwater systems will need to be completed within the coming three years. Studies will be required to define issues such as the number needed, their planned service life and an acquisition strategy.

Professor Babbage said underwater systems were relevant in three key areas - future inter-state conflicts, counter-terrorism and efforts to halt proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Taking in the Exclusive Economic Zone, continental shelf and Antarctic territory, Australia's maritime domain is the world's largest. It has a coastline of approximately 23,000 miles, and an Exclusive Economic Zone approaching 4 million square nautical miles. The Kokoda Foundation is an independent, not-for-profit think tank established to research, and foster innovative thinking on, Australia's future security challenges.

In the case of the submarine force, the Government took the view that future strategic circumstances necessitate a substantially expanded submarine fleet of 12 boats in order to sustain a force at sea large enough in a crisis or conflict to be able to defend sea approaches (including at considerable distance from Australia, if necessary), protect and support other ADF assets, and undertake certain strategic missions where the stealth and other operating characteristics of highly-capable advanced submarines would be crucial. Moreover, a larger submarine force would significantly increase the military planning challenges faced by any adversaries, and increase the size and capabilities of the force they would have to be prepared to commit to attack Austrlian directly, or coerce, intimidate or otherwise employ military power against Australia.

The Government has decided to acquire 12 new Future Submarines to be assembled in South Australia. This will be a major design and construction program spanning three decades, and will be Australia's largest ever single defence project. The Future Submarine will have greater range, longer endurance on patrol, and expanded capabilities compared to the current Collins class submarine. It will also be equipped with very secure real-time communications and be able to carry different mission payloads such as uninhabited underwater vehicles.

The Future Submarine will be capable of a range of tasks such as anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare; strategic strike; mine detection and mine-laying operations; intelligence collection; supporting special forces (including infiltration and exfiltration missions); and gathering battlespace data in support of operations.

Long transits and potentially short-notice contingencies in theprimary operational environment demand high levels of mobility and endurance in the Future Submarine. The boats need to be able to undertake prolonged covert patrols over the full distance of strategic approaches and in operational areas. They require low signatures across all spectrums, including at higher speeds.

The complex task of capability definition, design and construction must be undertaken without delay, given the long lead times and technical challenges involved. The Government has already directed that a dedicated project office be established for the Future Submarine within Defence, and will closely oversee this project.

The strategic importance of this capability is such that Australian industry involvement will need to be factored into the design, development and construction phases, and the sustainment and maintenance life cycle of these boats, which will extend well into the 2050s and possibly beyond. The Government will give early consideration to the complex capability definition and acquisition issues involved in this substantial undertaking. The Government will also consider matters such as basing and crewing, and will seek early advice from Defence on those and other issues.

For this project to succeed, Australia needs to engage with a number of overseas partners during the design and development phase. In particular, the Government intends to continue the very close level of Australia-US collaboration in undersea warfare capability. This will be crucial in the development and through life management of the Future Submarine.

The Government also agreed to further incremental upgrades to the Collins class submarines throughout the next decade, including new sonars, to ensure they remain highly effective through to their retirement. The construction program for the Future Submarines will be designed to provide the Government with the option to continue building additional submarines in the 2030s and beyond, should strategic circumstances require it.

The Government is determined to respond decisively to deficiencies in the current availability of operationally ready submarines. The Navy will embark on a major reform program to improve the availability of the Collins class fleet, and will also ensure that a solid foundation is laid for the expanded future submarine force. These reforms will change how the RAN attracts, remunerates, trains and manages the submarine workforce, and improve the deployment and maintenance of the submarines.

ASC hopes to win the right to build up to 12 new-generation submarines, at a cost of $25-30 billion, destined to enter service from about 2025. In 2007 ASC established Deep Blue Tech (DBT), a wholly owned subsidiary, as part of its preparation for possible involvement in Australia’s SEA 1000 Future Submarine project. DBT is the pre-eminent repository of submarine design expertise in Australia. In 2011 DBT continued their research and development into concepts for the project. ASC increased the staff capability of DBT during 2011/12 to ensure that it can build this capacity and capability to assist the Government when a decision is made on the acquisition of the next generation of submarines for Australia. During 2010/11 the goal was to build on earlier concepts and experience to conduct the A3 Future Submarine project and develop the capability in readiness for the next phase of the project.

A decision on the direction of the future submarine project had been expected late in 2011 or early in 2012. But by early 2013 key decisions on the type and number of new submarines was to be made in late 2013 or early 2014. A new white paper due later in 2013 [but still pending as of mid-2014] could settle for a smaller fleet. Four options under consideration were an existing European military-off-the-shelf (MOTS) design with minimal modification (cheapest and quickest - under AU$10 billion ); MOTS with some Australia-specific features (more expensive); an derivative of an existing design such as Collins (even more expensive) or; a whole new design (most expensive, some AU$36 billion).

Japan and Australia agreed 11 June 2014 to jointly develop submarine technology, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed his country toward a more assertive global military role. The submarine technology was a top item at talks among the country's foreign and defense ministers in Tokyo and was included in an agreement to step up cooperation in defense equipment and technology. Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told a joint news conference after the talks that the ministers agreed to begin the research in 2015. The research aimed to develop faster submarines with reduced water resistance and quieter propellers, Japanese defense officials said. But the joint research would not necessarily lead to the sale of Japanese submarines to Australia, which was exploring purchasing submarines from Germany and France as well.

Defense ministers of Japan and Australia agreed 16 October 2014 on possible cooperation in submarine technology. Australia showed strong interest in Japan's submarine engines and related technology. Japanese Defense Minister Akinori Eto and his Australian counterpart David Johnston met in Tokyo. Johnston asked Eto for cooperation with his country's new submarine plan. Eto responded that Japan will study what cooperation is possible. Japan has strict arms export rules known as "Guidelines for the Three Principles of Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology". It also has to think about the extent it will allow cooperation in the highly classified technology.

Australian leadership were considering an arms deal with Japan to buy 12 submarines based on Soryu-class vessels. "Australia is considering buying top-secret technology from Japan to build a fleet of new generation submarines, a move that would risk reigniting diplomatic tensions with China only recently smoothed over," Bloomberg reported 18 December 2014.

The media outlet underscored that Australian Defense Minister David Johnston has acknowledged that the authorities are considering "unsolicited proposals" made by Japan, Germany, Sweden and France to provide the Australian fleet with new submarines. The minister confirmed that the country was planning to replace its six Collins-class diesel electric submarines by 2026.

The Australian reported that although Japan, Germany, France and Sweden "are all keen" to build the vessels for Australia, the Japanese manufacturers are "ahead of the others, "since they have the most experience building conventional submarines large enough to meet Australia's needs." Reuters also noted in November 2014, that Canberra was leaning toward buying new Japanese submarines, based on an advanced lithium-ion battery propulsion system.

Experts emphasize that the Australian-Japanese military deal is likely to aggravate tensions between Canberra and Beijing. "The government's preference seems to be the Japanese, but there are still lots of hurdles. Japan hasn't exported sensitive military technology before and while a deal would mean ties between two close US allies would strengthen, it would be seen in China as a dark cloud," noted Mark Thomson, a defense economics analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, as cited by Bloomberg.

Dean Cheng, a research fellow at the US-based Heritage Foundation, deems that Beijing would undoubtedly qualify the deal as "the 'black hand' of Washington at work.... Japan is clearly stepping beyond its traditional interpretation of its pacifist policy, which China may see as opening the door to a more forceful role in Asia".

The Chinese expert Shi Yongming from the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing said that the US would praise the military deal between Japan and Australia: "It's in the US interest to have the security ties between its two major allies in the region strengthened," he stressed.

The Japanese National Security Council approved on 26 Novbemer 2015 a proposal on a joint development of submarines for the needs of the Royal Australian Navy. The contract was estimated at 50 billion Australian dollars ($36.11 billion at the current exchange rate). Japan should submit final development plans before November 30 to continue competition with Germany and France that also wish to receive a contract with the Australian government. The agency added that the final decision on the country that would contribute to the renewal of Australian submarine fleet was expected in 2016.

Japanese bid was a choice for Australia between its relationship with China, its biggest trading partner, and Japan, its second-biggest partner.

By early 2021 concerns about the cost, delivery schedule and strategic value of Australia's future submarine fleet were growing, despite Federal Government assurances the most expensive defence project in the nation's history was on track. Critics of the Attack Class project jumped on the steep rise in the cost of the project from $50 billion to $89 billion now. There were early milestone delays and the submarine delivery target date slipped to 2033. The planned commencement date for construction of the lead boat, HMAS Attack, widely publicised as 2022-23, had by 2020 slipped to the 2024 time frame. Defence advised government in February 2019 that Naval Group had proposed to extend the completion date for Future Submarine design work from July 2022 to September 2023.

Concerns had also been raised about the non-AIP, lead-acid battery design, which featured pump-jet propulsion technology never used on a conventional submarine. Both South Korea and Singapore had plans to develop a sovereign submarine industry capability and had done so. Naval Group said Australian industry was not up to the task. Naval Group responded to concerns about lack of local industry participation by saying that it was committed to at least 60 percent local content. Defence’s overall assessment of risk for the Future Submarine Program was ‘high’.

On 15 September 2021 The US, UK and Australia announced a new military initiative, dedicated to a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” The first step of the alliance that appeared aimed against China is to provide Canberra with nuclear submarines.

The pursuit of nuclear-powered submarine technology meant that Australia will no longer proceed with the Attack class conventional submarine program with Naval Group. The Government thanked the Attack class submarine workforce, Naval Group, the Government of France and Lockheed Martin Australia for their efforts to date. However, accelerating changes to regional security make conventional submarines unsuited to operational needs in the decades ahead.

France recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia in a ferocious row over the scrapping of a submarine contract, an unprecedented step that revealed the extent of French anger against its allies. President Emmanuel Macron made the exceptional decision due to the “gravity of the announcements on September 15 by Australia and the United States”, said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in a statement. The French ambassador recalls from the United States and Australia – key allies of France – are unprecedented. Withdrawing envoys is a last resort diplomatic step taken when relations between feuding countries are plunged into crisis but highly unusual between allies.

The row put on hold hopes of a post-Trump renaissance in Paris-Washington relations under Biden and his Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a fluent French speaker who was educated in Paris. France's European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune also said Friday that Paris was unable to trust Canberra in ongoing European Union trade deal talks following the decision.

While France hadn't held back in showing anger over the AUKUS pact and scuppered submarine deal, l'Opinion points out that Paris didn't have many ways of striking back. Other papers poked fun at France's fury, which The Australian called a "farce".

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Page last modified: 22-09-2021 12:57:31 ZULU