- A.N. Other
- History - general, Ship design and development
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By Hans J. Ohff
After a career in engineering and commerce, Hans Ohff took an interest in economic history to earn his PhD from the University of Adelaide. He regards his involvement in the Collins class submarine program as his most interesting, challenging and rewarding time during a 30-year career in ship-building, engineering and construction. As Managing Director of Eglo Engineering Ltd from 1978 to 1992, Hans Ohff was responsible for the construction of the ESSO-BHP oil and gas off-shore production facilities in Bass Strait, the first LNG gas train on the Burrup Peninsula for Woodside, and several refinery and mine expansions in Australia and overseas. In the mid 1980s Ohff headed the EGLO-HDW bid for the Oberon class submarine replacement program which was lost to the KOCKUMS-led Collins class consortium. He then led the successful EGLO-ICAL-ASI bid for the ANZAC frigate program. From the beginning of 1994 Ohff became Managing Director ASC to take responsibility for the delivery of the six Collins class submarines. After his retirement from ASC in 2002 he accepted appointments on several company and government boards. Dr Ohff is a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia and a visiting research fellow at Adelaide University.
‘Australia is drifting behind in technology and in maritime defence and it would seem of importance for the nuclear option to become a national issue’, argue Rear Admirals (Rtd) Andrew Robertson, David Holthouse and Chris Wood in an article published by The Navy League of Australia. Because there is a growing body of opinion in support of this ‘…it is the League’s view that at the very least the option of nuclear power should remain under consideration…’ for the 12 new submarines identified in the government’s 2009 White Paper. In its August 2008 government submission ‘Keeping Australia’s Options Open in Constrained Strategic Circumstances’, the Submarine Institute of Australia (SIA) would advocate nuclear powered submarines if it were not for the lack of an Australian nuclear industry, acquisition and operational cost, and public and political obstacles. The Australian Financial Review writes in August 2009 that Australia should consider acquiring nuclear submarines in the future because they are ‘…superior to diesel-electric submarines [and] other significant powers have or are acquiring them’.
More than 60% of the world population is living within 100km of the coastline. Most goods are still transported by sea compared to land and air. Trafficking in weapons, piracy, unauthorised merchandise, drugs and people are conducted in a maritime environment, as is, of course, illegal fishing. Securing the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) and seaboard therefore remains paramount in Australia’s national defence strategy. And non-nuclear submarines not only excel in the littoral waters along our coastline but in operations extending to our northern approaches. Further, Australia’s strategic interests are well served by providing the US Navy with the layer of submarine operational capability it needs but does not have. In the Australian – USA defence alliance the Australian submarine squadron is valued for its littoral capabilities and forms a natural extension for US nuclear submarine operations force in our region.
Nuclear power has, of course, some advantages over diesel-electric which submarine commanders (CO) and naval strategists understand. A nuclear reactor with a high power to volume ratio, energised with highly enriched (HEU >90% U-235) weapons-grade uranium, would ordinarily not require refuelling during an operational 30 year life-cycle. The autonomy of the submarine would only be suspended for taking provisions and weapons, for repairs and maintenance, and for crew change. Its underwater endurance provides extended covertness and therefore some operational advantages a modern, diesel-electric boat cannot match.
In addition to long endurance, high-energy-density reactors, generating in excess of 50MW, provide an attack submarine with a sustained speed of >35kt (classified). This is a valuable countermeasure and increases the survivability of the submarine from an incoming torpedo. This said, modern torpedoes are also improving in both stealth and speed. And increased speed by the SSN also provides an immediate counter-detection opportunity.
The ability of nuclear-powered submarines to take onboard a large arsenal of weapons, including multi-head nuclear Cruise and ballistic missiles is a recognised advantage. The USN SSBN Ohio class, typically displacing 18,750t submerged, can carry 24 Trident ballistic, long range missiles (~7,500km) with eight 100kt nuclear warheads each, and 154 Tomahawk medium range Cruise missiles (~2,500km) with conventional/cluster bomb warheads.