- Staal, A.J., BE (Hons), Sub-Lieutenant, RAN
- Ship design and development, Naval technology
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1991 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
As part of the ‘Two Ocean Navy’ policy implemented in the late 1980s, HMAS Oxley was moved to HMAS Stirling in 1987. This allowed the submarine squadron to increase its patrol duration in the Indian Ocean and off the Western Australian coastline. The move also involved an upgrade in the support facilities at Stirling, paving the way for the changes introduced in the 1991 Defence Force Structure Review with regard to the new Collins Class submarines.
COLLINS CLASS – THE FUTURE
The early 1990s sees the Oberon Class submarines reach the end of their service life. Although they are highly capable submarines, the combination of high maintenance costs and the 30 day patrol limitation has warranted the decision to buy six new conventional submarines. In May 1987, the New Submarine Contract (NSC) was awarded to The Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC), who had submitted the Swedish designed Kockums Type 471 as the replacement submarine. The combat system contract was awarded to Rockwell International. This submarine project has been well received in Australia, providing employment for many in the shipbuilding and related industries. The bow and stern sections of the first submarine are being built in Sweden, however, the ASC will complete the construction of the remaining submarines at its shipyard in Adelaide, South Australia. The first submarine, the Collins, is expected to come into service in 1995.
The new submarines have a length of 246 feet and a surfaced displacement of 2450 tons. They have a range of 9000 miles at 10 knots, and a top speed of 20+ knots underwater. When compared with the Oberons, these new submarines have a patrol endurance of 70 days, faster underwater speed, greater diving depth, and improved manoeuverability. The weapons carried will include the sub-Harpoon, Mk 48 torpedo, and mines. The Colins Class has a significantly smaller crew when compared with the Oberons. The 42 strong complement has been made possible through new technology enabling computer-based control and monitoring of all the ship borne operating systems. The hull design is modern, with elastically mounted decks and equipment. The propeller and control surfaces permit the improved manoeuvrability while keeping noise to a minimum. The previously mentioned SWS Centre at HMAS Watson will support the new submarines in the areas of crew training, software development, and individual combat system tests.
In discussing the role of the new submarines, they will be able to continue the job presently performed by the Oberons. However, new weapons and sensors will permit them to be more effective in their peacetime role of covert deterrence and their wartime role of layered defence. This is brought about by the development of the Harpoon missile into a long range land strike weapon. New towed array sonars will greatly increase in detection capability of the submarine, allowing it to identify possible threats earlier. The fitting of air independent propulsion systems could see the submarine operate for long submerged periods, increasing both their deterrence and defence value. The Australian government recently decided to base all six submarines at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia. This will see the eventual closure of HMAS Platypus as the Oberons are phased out of service. In addition to extending the submarine’s range of influence when on patrol, the positioning of the submarine force in WA permits the submarines to get on station quicker in a defensive situation.
It has been shown that the strategic value of the submarine has increased with the rapid technological advancements since the turn of the century. The development of the Australian submarine force lagged world-wide trends in submarine design and implementation from World War One through to post World War Two. The short operational period of the AEI and AE2 did not help establish a modern submarine force after the war. The Australian economy could not afford to maintain the force of ‘J’ boats on loan from the British – likewise the ‘O’ boats. During and after WW2, emphasis was placed on developing techniques in Anti-Submarine Warfare through the use of K9 and the Royal Navy 4th Submarine Squadron. This period saw very little development in an Australian submarine force, however, many Australians were gaining experience in submarine warfare working in British submarines. Australian industry also learned how to keep a submarine force maintained and supported.