The Oberon class were British-built diesel-electric submarines based on the successful British Porpoise class submarine. A follow-on to the earlier PORPOISE class, and they appeared almost identical. New hull materials gave a deeper diving depth. The British designed Oberons were a product of Britain's World War II submarine experience. Their versatility lay in their ability to be silent and 'invisible' - to watch, listen and collect information without being detected.
Oberon, in folklore, was king of the elves or fairies and, according to the 13th-century French romance Huon of Bordeaux, an illegitimate son of Julius Caesar. Shakespeare used the character in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Oberon's name was taken as the title of a masque by Ben Jonson in 1616, an epic by Christoph Wieland in 1780, and an opera by Weber in 1826.
The Oberon class submarine played a vital role protecting Australia for more than 30 years, from 1967 through to 2000. They were commissioned in the middle years of the cold war, a dangerous period of intense military competition and tension between the communist block under the Soviet Union and the United States of America and its allies. At the time, the Oberons were considered the quietest, non-nucleur submarines in the world.
The submarine design consists of a pressure hull made of high strength steel with external steel ballast tanks mounted along each side of the hull and with steel bow and stern fabrications added fore and aft. Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) is used in the casing. Oberons employed QT28 steel instead of the UXW used in the Porpoise class. This was easier to fabricate and gave a significant increase in diving depth. Additionally, they made use of glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) in the casing and other improvements helped the class become even more silent than the Porpoises.
Twenty seven were built in total. Thirteen were constructed for the Royal Navy, while another fourteen were built and exported to other countries' navies: six to the Royal Australian Navy, three to the Royal Canadian Navy, three to the Brazilian Navy, and two to the Chilean Navy. Chatham Dockyard in the UK built the Canadian boats and some for the RN but it did not build all the Oberon class submarines. Other yards included Scotts at Greenock, Vickers at Barrow, Scott-Lithgow and Cammell Laird.
In the United Kingdom where the Oberon class was developed and built. The policy of an all nuclear submarine fleet was to see them and their successors the Upholder class phased out by the mid 1990s. The Australian and Canadian boats have had electronic and weapon systems updates since they were commissioned and are still capable of giving good operational results. The Australian boats were phased out as the Collins-class become operational whilst the Canadian boats are now being decommissioned and being replaced with the ex British Upholders after giving as did the Australian boats more than 30 years of service. Brazil and Chile's boats also had mid life systems updates. Both countries replacements are of the German 209 type designs. For 30 years Oberon class boats provided an economical yet potent weapons system. The quietness of these boats is known to be the benchmark to which others aspire.
On the surface, the Oberon class used HF and UHF communications as did a surface ship. Underwater, VLF broadcasts were received at periscope depth and also at greater depths by use of the 'ALK' buoy VLF antenna outfit which increases the reception depth. When at periscope depth, the submarine could communicate on HF and UHF using the ALN mast and UHF facilities on the ECM mast. Communications are possible at almost any depth with surface units and other submarines using the Underwater Telephone. However, this method is a very insecure means of communication.
The distinctive Type 2051 sonar dome gave the Oberon class its distinctive outline. In Ocelot, the stern tubes were plated over during a refit, so that a towed array sonar could be installed. This is one of several sonars carried, the most obvious being the one housed in the bow fairing. For the first time in submarine construction, many of the casing panels were made in fiberglass laminate, to reduce weight.
The large distinctive sail (fin) carries seven masts for communication, radar, and, of course the periscopes - the number of 'masts' - no less than seven - includes snort intake and exhaust, communications (2), radar, and periscopes (2). A bridge/conning position is also situated there. Powered by two Admiralty Standard Range 1 diesel engines driving electric motors, they proved to be reliable and well respected. At 2400 tons submerged displacement they had high underwater speed (17 Knots) and could maintain this for long periods using the snort facility, which was also fitted. They were armed with six bow 21 inch torpedo tubes and two of the same size in the stern.
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