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Future submarine choices: more than a one horse race

By Peter Coates - posted Thursday, 11 December 2014

A vertical launch system (VLS) appears to be absent in the Soryu's and therefore should not be a weight gaining requirement for German and French proposals. Tomahawk cruise missiles can be fired from existing horizontal torpedo tubes. Modified VLS is not required for divers as divers are increasing being catered for in detachable dry dock shelter technology that sits behind a submarine's sail-fin.

Six Submarines Not Twelve

To save many $Billions in purchase, manning and sustainment costs it would be better if Australia aimed at acquiring just six submarines not twelve. This takes into account Australia's tight financial circumstances with many competing demands within and outside the defence budget. A requirement for twelve submarines was an uncosted, minimally justified, extravagance included in the 2009 White Paper (page 70, section 9.3) drawn up under the Rudd Government. There appears to be a historical trend of shooting high in Australian submarine numbers. The numbers of UK built Oberon class submarines proposed for Australia shrank from eight to six (operating 1967-1999). The proposed number of the Collins went from ten, to eight, to six (operating 1996 - present).


The naval budget should not be spread too thinly given that the major new ship acquisitions will need to be maintained. These new acquisitions are the two Canberra Class Landing Helicopter Docks and the three Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyers. These new ships will arguably double the combat tonnage of the Navy.

Despite the political, financial and strategic uncertainties the Abbott Government needs to make a series of reasonable decisions for the future submarines. By having a reasonable Plan B the political risks of Plan A (choosing Japan's Soryu) can be reduced. Plan B involves existing German and French submarines that are also in production (like the Soryu). Given Australia's rapid naval expansion choosing a reasonable six submarines makes more sense than twelve. Whatever happens a repeat performance of designing a very large "orphan" submarine like the Collins should be avoided.

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About the Author

Peter Coates has been writing articles on military, security and international relations issues since 2006. In 2014 he completed a Masters Degree in International Relations, with a high distinction average. His website is Submarine Matters.

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