Australia bolsters maritime defenses with new class of submarines

Australia bolsters maritime defenses with new class of submarines

Top Stories | Apr 9, 2020:

Tom Abke

Australia is moving forward with a plan to develop a new class of domestically built submarines to defend its maritime domain and deter potential adversaries.

The new Attack-class diesel-electric submarines are designed to be “regionally superior” in the Indo-Pacific. They will be built in Australia with the participation of more than 100 Australian firms in partnership with France’s Naval Group.

The Attack-class subs will serve “long-standing priorities” of Canberra’s defense strategy, an Australian Department of Defence spokeswoman told FORUM, which include “protecting critical lines of trade and communication, conducting surveillance and denying the use of the sea to a potential adversary.”

The vessel’s design is based on Naval Group’s Barracuda-class submarine but will be powered by diesel fuel and electricity rather than nuclear power, which the Barracuda uses. The 100-meter-long Attack-class submarine is expected to carry heavyweight torpedoes, Harpoon anti-ship missiles or Mk III Stonefish mines, according to government documents. It has a projected range of 33,000 kilometers and can be deployed for up to 80 days at a time. (Pictured: An artist’s rendition depicts Australia’s Attack-class submarine.)

“By 2035, around half the world’s submarines will be operating in the Indo-Pacific region, where Australia’s interests are most engaged,” the spokeswoman said. “An enduring and potent submarine capability is critical to Australia’s national security.”

Key capabilities of the Attack-class sub are anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and support to special operations.

Australia’s submarine capability needs could not be met with an “off-the-shelf design,” the spokeswoman emphasized. The Attack class, therefore, will be patterned after a Naval Group design that is optimized with high-performance sensors and stealth characteristics and has comparable range and endurance to the six Collins-class subs currently active in the Royal Australian Navy. The first Collins-class sub was commissioned in 1996.

Twelve Attack-class submarines eventually will replace their Collins-class predecessors by the mid-2030s at an estimated cost of U.S. $30 billion, according to Australia’s latest Defense White Paper, published in 2016.

The Australian-made Collins submarines participate in several international maritime exercises, including the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise, held every two years.

The new subs should be highly interoperable with U.S. naval assets to provide Australia with an effective deterrent, particularly in anti-submarine warfare, the white paper added.

Making sure the new subs are built in Australia was another priority for Canberra, the spokeswomen explained.

“Sovereignty underpins our ability to sustain and operate our defense assets without undue reliance on overseas support,” she said.

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.