- Periodical, Semaphore
- Ship design and development
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
As foreshadowed in the White Paper, land strike will likely become another significant role for RAN submarines. A submarine specifically loaded for land strike missions could carry a substantial number of Cruise missiles alongside a limited number of torpedoes. Submarine-launched land attack missiles might be among the first weapons fired in a campaign where the threat prevents the use of land-based air power, or other factors prevent ships from positioning for such a strike. Moreover, the ability of the submarine to clear a launch datum and exploit the undersea environment to evade may offer greater impunity against counter-attack.
Submarines are also capable of supporting small Special Forces units through covert insertion and extraction.
In addition to direct warfighting, submarines can consistently contribute to intelligence and surveillance efforts. They can collect acoustic, visual, communications and electronic intelligence that promotes our understanding of evolving threats and directly supports the conduct of operations by other forces.
The advent of secure, discrete, and high-data rate communications for submarines now also means that they can operate as part of a networked force. This does not imply that submarines need to remain a constantly connected node. Rather, the achievement of effects can be magnified if submarines are supported by the timely flow of information from the rest of a force.
What are the challenges?
The successful introduction of Australia’s future submarine capability will face a number of substantial challenges. These challenges give rise to related commercial, financial, and schedule issues that will truly make the Future Submarine an acquisition program of national dimensions.
In the first instance, the development of a Future Submarine suitable for Australia’s distinctive security requirements is inherently complex. Not least among the technical challenges will be energy generation and storage needs. Will the Future Submarine possess air independent propulsion, for example? Our strategic geography alone imposes unique requirements on the range and endurance of a submarine expected to fulfil the roles and deliver the effects described above. Similarly, payload needs (coupled with the distance from Australia at which the Future Submarine could be expected to operate) generate additional demands on submarine size. The expected 25 year life of the Future Submarines also warrants careful consideration. To maintain their long term effectiveness, they will clearly need to incorporate sufficient design margins for capability growth.
The planned expansion to a fleet of 12 highly-capable Future Submarines poses its own challenges, for this is not simply an acquisition program. While it is true that considerable effort will be devoted to the development, design and construction of the submarines, the RAN faces the equally challenging endeavour of rebuilding a sustainable submarine force. Such a force must include the right number of trained and qualified people who will underpin the capability. Closely related are the training systems that will provide our personnel with the skills they need to exploit all the advantages offered by our Future Submarines. There must also be through-life support arrangements that will uphold fleet availability and maintain the capability edge essential to the effectiveness of the submarines throughout their operational lives. Furthermore, there needs to be adequate shore-based infrastructure to support the inherent dependencies of submarines.
Finally, and without suggesting that the Future Submarine capability will change any of the enduring principles of maritime strategy, the RAN will also need to continuously revisit its tactical instructions and doctrine. It will thereby ensure that it remains current as new technologies of consequence emerge from the Future Submarine development and the other advanced maritime capabilities announced in the White Paper.
None of these endeavours will be simple or straightforward, and it would be simplistic to think that the usual way of doing business will invariably suffice. In fact, it would be fair to say that past business practices have proved less than effective in maintaining our submarine capability. Meeting the challenges posed by the Future Submarine must therefore begin with a concerted and deliberate effort to remediate current shortfalls. The success of the introduction of the Future Submarine will hinge on the legacy of our future Collins class experience.
As one of the most ambitious acquisition programs to be undertaken by the ADF, the Future Submarine represents a substantial national investment in Australia’s long-term security needs. Entrusted to the RAN, this key capability will also impose a substantial responsibility. Only by deliberately confronting the challenges posed will the Navy succeed in introducing the Future Submarine into service and sustaining it throughout its subsequent operational life.
This article first appeared in Issue 14, dated October 2009, of Semaphore, produced by the Sea Power Centre of Australia. The NHS Review is grateful for their permission to publish this article.