Why does Australia need submarines

German submarines for Australia?

“I wouldn't even trust them to build canoes.” The bitter judgment of Australia's Defense Minister David Johnston was valid last November at the state shipyard Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC). His apology, which he laboriously wrested a few days later, didn't make matters any better: “Unfortunately, in rhetorical exuberance, I vented my anger at the ASC's latest achievements.” In the end, Prime Minister Tony Abbott could no longer hold him.

Johnston is easy to understand. The state shipyard has already cost Australian taxpayers a lot of money. And gradually the ASC drama is also becoming a serious security issue for the whole country. At the end of 2014, the ASC shipyard should have handed over the first of three state-of-the-art anti-aircraft missile destroyers to the Royal Australian Navy. But after almost unbelievable design and manufacturing mishaps, the entire armaments program will now take at least three years longer and cost 1.2 billion Australian dollars more.

A submarine that is not really allowed to dive

The Australian Navy had even more bitter experiences with six Collins-class submarines, also built by ASC. ASC took more time to build a super aircraft carrier for each boat than the Americans. But because apparently practically everything that is important for a submarine - from the periscope to the diesel engines to the emergency drive and the central control electronics - is chronically damaged, only two submarines have rarely been operational. Not even a single one between October 2009 and February 2010. Over time, the boats also get louder and louder and uncomfortably hot inside.

The submarines are getting half a ton or a ton heavier every year - for reasons nobody understands.

Australian Department of Defense

And every year the Collins boats get half a ton or a ton heavier - "for reasons no one understands," according to the Department of Defense. The only consolation: Because the boats that were put into service from 1990 onwards were so rarely diving, their pressure hulls are in a comparatively good, less stressed condition. But they are still not allowed to dive deep: Since a defect that almost cost one of the boats and its 55 crew members in February 2003, the Collins submarines have been banned from deep diving. In a military emergency, they could hardly be used.

The most screwed-up, worst-managed submarine program in the world.

The Australian

ASC has built a submarine that is not allowed to dive properly. Two years ago, the largest Australian newspaper wrote of the “most screwed-up, worst-managed submarine program in the world” The Australian. No wonder that the state-owned company is in bad shape - and the entire shipyard in Adelaide, South Australia. Rescue could now come from Germany. But one after anonther.

Impending submarine gap

The Collins boats are due to be decommissioned from 2025. In 2007, the government in Canberra launched the SEA1000 procurement program to replace the six old boats with twelve new ones. But successive Labor governments have remained inactive, perhaps out of consideration for their shipyard workers in Adelaide. The Abbott government was also reluctant to touch the hot submarine iron at first. And now time is running out.

Because it takes at least eight years to completely design a new submarine and then another five years to build each individual submarine, the country is now threatened with a submarine gap. If the Collins boats can't somehow become seaworthy by the 2030s, Australia would not have submarines to protect its coasts for the first time since 1967, warned back in September 2013 The Australian. And that at a time when a downright submarine arms race is underway in the Far East.

Australia's largest arms project: 27 billion euros

But an investigation by the Department of Defense has since shown that extending the life of the Collins boats is out of the question. It is much more likely that the accident boats will have to be decommissioned sooner. New submarines are needed and sooner rather than later. The result is now an exciting competition between German, French and Japanese manufacturers for the order worth 20 billion Australian dollars (13.5 billion euros) or twice as much if you include the entire service life of the ships. The new submarine program is Australia's largest armaments project to date.

An exciting competition between German, French and Japanese manufacturers.

First, Canberra wanted to return the SEA1000 order to the ASC shipyard. But the "insane idea" (The Australian) was quickly off the table. In April 2014, Prime Minister Abbott was apparently thinking in Tokyo with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about awarding the contract to Japan. According to press reports, Defense Secretary Johnston is said to have even considered buying state-of-the-art Japanese Soryu-class submarines off the shelf, so to speak. It remained with speculation. Earlier this year, the Abbott government decided that the contract would not be open to tender, but would be a "competitive evaluation process." The Kiel shipyard ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), the French state-owned DCNS and the two manufacturers of the Japanese Soryu boats, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding, were invited to submit specific proposals by the end of 2015. The Swedish competitor Saab was removed from the list because it has not built a submarine for almost 20 years, but was involved in the construction of the unfortunate Collins boats.

Great opportunity for the German fuel cell submarine

For Portugal's Navy: Dolphin class 214 submarine with fuel cell propulsion. Image: TKHMS

U-31 of submarine class 212A with fuel cell drive: with five sister ships since 2005 the most modern submarine in the German Navy. Image: TKSM

In the meantime, the battle for the lucrative contract has broken out in full. With its Type 216 project - a further development of the fuel cell submarines of the 214 Dolphin class - the German TKMS has good chances. Not least because it offered to take over the Australian ASC shipyard or, in any case, to copy its Kiel shipyard in Adelaide, so to speak, and to “build a strong Australian foothold”. That could please the Australians: TKMS would then relocate the maintenance of all of their submarines sold throughout the region to Adelaide - the salvation for the shipyard location. Conversely, the Germans may already receive the next giant Australian order SEA5000 for the construction of six frigates - for 15 billion dollars (10 billion euros).

ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems could save the Australian shipyard in Adelaide with the order.

In addition, there is the great prestige of the German provider. The Kiel shipyard has built 161 submarines for 20 naval forces over the past 50 years. When it comes to building diesel-electric submarines, TKMS is the undisputed world market leader. At the time, Blohm and Voss designed ten Australian Anzac frigates. The ships built between 1993 and 2006 are considered "the most successful Australian naval program ever", according to the Australian Internet news site News.com.au.

Transparency campaign in Kiel

In Kiel, however, people suspect that, for political and geostrategic reasons, the Abbott government might like to have a Japanese partner, and they are accordingly doing their utmost. In May, the TKMS people flew the new Australian Defense Minister Kevin Andrews in a helicopter over their shipyards, where nine submarines were just being built or serviced. In Kiel, submarines really get down to business, that was the message. Andrews is said to have been impressed. In general, the doors in Kiel are apparently wide open to Australian visitors at the moment. In May, a group of Australian journalists - with a focus on security policy - were allowed to visit Kiel and the company and take a close look at them. The shipyard and its openness campaign are well received by Australian journalists. You also immediately noted that the French and Japanese are handling it very differently - the French and Japanese submarine proposals are "wrapped in secrecy," writes news.au.com.

Japan's biggest problem: no arms export experience

The Japanese Soryu submarine is undoubtedly good. Secretary of Defense Johnston even called it "the best conventional submarine in the world". Which is of course denied in Kiel. Interestingly, Australian submariners also criticize the Japanese Soryu: The Japanese boat, although significantly larger than the Collins class, has less space inside, writes the Internet magazine, for example The diplomat. It is true that Canberra and Tokyo want to work closely together on security policy in the region. Especially at sea, where the Chinese rearmament and the rather ruthless Beijing power politics are currently worrying both countries. For both, the US is the most important and indispensable ally. Australians have fought alongside their great ally in every American war since the beginning of the 20th century, and they know exactly why. It is quite possible that at the end of the day an American word will be decisive for the submarine question. Nevertheless, the Japanese have a dramatic disadvantage: they have never exported weapons, let alone a submarine, or built them in cooperation with anyone. That would make a joint armaments project, and such a huge one, downright risky.

The French want to downsize a nuclear submarine for the Australians and convert it to a diesel-electric drive system - which is not without its problems. In addition, it is not certain whether US manufacturers also want to share their weapons technologies, which the Australians want to use on their ships, with the French.

A conventional submarine with the performance of a nuclear submarine

For these and other reasons, the enlarged German Dolphin submarines have a good chance in Australia. But the Australian order would also be a real challenge for the Kiel manufacturer. Because the Australians are demanding customers: "We want a conventional submarine with the performance, speed and range of a nuclear submarine," said Defense Secretary Johnston about a year ago. The extreme requirement profile is related to Australia's geography and its strategic interests between the North Pacific and the Persian Gulf on the other side of the Indian Ocean. Nobody except the Australians whips their conventional diesel-electric submarines thousands of nautical miles across the oceans and then let them go on patrol in distant sea areas. This is how the Australian magazine explains it The Monthly very true to its readers. It is quite possible that the Collins boats also failed because of this almost impossible task.

Australia has the only navy in the world that whips its conventional submarines thousands of kilometers across the oceans - and then sends them on patrol.

The Monthly

For TKMS, the challenge would also be an even greater opportunity. Because if the Australian government decides on the German type 216 boat in November, the Kiel shipyard will present a very special submarine in a few years' time: a large conventional submarine with the performance of a nuclear submarine.