This thread is a bit of a mess. The problem with defence in Australia is pretty simple - we combine a lack of specific threats with a general reluctance to spend money but also some LARPist fantasies from our political leaders. The end result is a defence force that can do a little bit of everything but which if actually required to fight a high intensity wore would be unable to function for more than a month or two due to the absurdly shallow force structure.
Australia's defense matrix is a case of a large geographic area, held by a tiny population in an a portion of the planet that until recently was remote enough to be mostly ignored by possible aggressors. That has changed as the area has become a target for resource exploitation. In a normal sane world, the situation would develop into one where trading partners would conduct commerce in which goods and services flow, but a metastasis has arisen in which the kind of colonialist imperialist mindset which raped the planet and plunged it into war a century ago has reemerged. Criminal gangster regimes who have bought into the loot and plunder and theft model of "mercantile imperialism" have emerged again to plague humanity in general. Vulnerable states with riches that these rogue regimes wish to exploit, and Australia is one, have to look to their defenses. That is not a messy thread development, that is the reality of THIS thread and underlies the geopolitical thesis behind the curtain in which I present how not to procure a submarine.
The Collins Class is a very good boat if you want to have a long-range conventional submarine, but which cost more than it should have. There's a lot of emotion in that debate due to the questions of fundamental Australian industrial competence and the limited number of options we allow ourselves due to spending, but I don't think there's much serious debate these days as to the issues with the program. It was a mess that was eventually fixed and which delivered a good boat. Given that we don't have an active need for it the questions regarding the trade off between production and numbers versus bespoke capabilities is pretty abstract.
With my previous comment, let me explain why a long range sea control platform is Australia specific and necessary. I HATE to repeat myself constantly, but the lesson learned is...
a. The enemy has absolute air and surface sea superiority over Australia in the Australian area of operations, in peace and war. in those prime areas of interest which are vital to Australian independence as a free actor in the international community.
b. The enemy is the set of rogue regimes who wish through soft and hard power to coerce Australia through means short of all out war into actions that create economic and political subservience and dependency on these imperialists so that Australia can be looted.
c. In such bump and scrape intimidation and economic and political extortion cold war conditions, the Australian polity needs an independent set of platforms that operate clandestinely or openly under enemy air and space assets in such a fashion to monitor and interfere with enemy use of the sea and to control access (limited as that capacity might be due to the small Australian population, scattered infrastructure and limited industrial capacity.)
d. Australia's own defense is leveraged. That is she relies on allies to provide the depth in base and effort, she cannot afford or build herself. To that end her most prudent planners have picked such allies and have tailored her own defense efforts so that the combined alliance efforts not only compliment each other, but serve Australia's interests and give her a voice in the collective alliance councils on what the allies should and should not do.
e. Therefore, any stupid political decisions which impinge the efficiency of that leverage are detrimental to Australia's interest as a free actor. Buy the WRONG kind of submarine. Pick the wrong aircraft, invest in land systems that do not meet the sea air space leverage conditions needed to allow independent actions and influence in council with the allies and Australia has wasted her means to shape events and trends.
Technically by NOW in this thread, the questions should have been asked:
1. Can the Collins class maintain a two boat patrol regime at sea?
2, Can the Collins class operate undetected adjacent or inside rogue gangster regime dominated waters to collect information and to track the rogue regimes' piratical activities? In other words, in a certain example, can a Collins class boat track sea traffic IN PEACE by shipping that violates economic embargoes or violates international treaties. In that specific rogue regime's case, sensitive nuclear materials in exchange for oil was freightered through waters to another gangster regime that would be likely of intense interest to Australia. The ally caught it and thwarted it, but the ally was / is stretched to the limit. There was no Collins class boat available to provide coverage because of the historic maintenance issues noted upthread. The ALLY had to leave other areas of interest uncovered to deal with that incident. Something could have happened that the ally would not be able to track and act upon, that would be inimical directly to Australia. And I mean events in train close enough that Australians could have died as a result.
The nuclear debate is, I think, missing the point. We can talk for hours and years about the many differences between the two type of subs but the reality is that without a clear overriding mission it's extremely difficult to say with certainty what we should go for. In terms of what they actually do on a day to day basis, there's no difference. Australia is a rich country and would have a reasonably to very good boat irrespective of its type, capable of cruising around the region undetected by the likes of the ASEAN fleets. Beyond that is hypothetical - are we actually planning on fighting China in the Taiwan Straits? If so, conventional is better. Or are we expecting to have to fight to defend our trade routes not just in the SCS but around the continent? Nuclear probably is better there, though in part for the oft-citied industrial advantages we'd gain by just buying one. 'Sovereign Industrial Capabilities' sound good, but realistically we wouldn't have the time to build new boats during any plausible modern conflict. IMO there's no real end to this debate until we face a very specific threat, as a military that is unable to be geared to specific mission(s) is always going to be one without straightforward ways to analyse what makes a good or appropriate capability.
Technically, that is the wrong set of questions. And it reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about what Australia should and a certain ally actually desires in a submarine.
f. Can the boat stay on patrol? Nuclear boats have higher presence on station than diesel electric boats because their fuel limitation is not existent. Also, as odd as it seems, a fission reactor heated turbine electric propulsion system, provided that it is a natural convection circuit design, is simpler and more mechanically reliable than a diesel, aip, electric setup. Though when something does break, as it will, the cost and repairs involved are an order of magnitude worse to fix. Operation availability in peace with a nuclear boat of 33% rotation is easy, especially with Blue / Gold crews. Diesel boats are manpower cheaper but 25% on station is the trade for that unit crew per boat cost savings. Coverage is what is wanted.
g. Can the boat stay quiet and hide? Diesel electric boats on the battery are ideal for submerged presence, especially in coastal waters of intense interest. The PROBLEM is that once they, at more than creep speed, move either on AIP or their diesels through the snort, and when they move any distance in general across blue water, they are easy to spot, easy to track and easy to quietly KILL; if that becomes necessary. Ally and enemy know this diesel electric boat operating characteristic. Certain Australian allies (Japan publicly) have worked on that problem and might have figured out a solution which no one else (France for example has not figured it out.) has.
h. Can the boat snoop? See g.
i. A certain ally has worked hard on fission reactor heated steam turbine boats based on f-g. criteria. They have tried for quiet, for hide, for presence, for snoop, and for the ability to kill through deniability in peace and war. They have good reason to be pleased so far with the results, but one cannot rely on enemy incompetence forever. The rogue gangster regimes know about the same stuff I described. They work hard to overcome. And as I noted the ally is stretched to the limit.
The ADF has not played a crucial role in Australia's security since at least Konfrontasi, as we have not been meaningfully threatened since then. The flag waving idiocy of following the US has been a waste of money and has had zero impact on the US' commitment to Australia - all expeditionism is the LARPist fantasy previously mentioned. It is unneeded but also unthreatening, and easily dispensed with whenever necessary. Defence in Australia is fundamentally not taken seriously by anyone outside of a small sphere of academics in and around Russell Hill because fundamentally it is not a pressing issue - though this might change sooner than we'd like. Until then, the capability debate will be a thoroughly cultural debate and no different to debates around ANZAC Day or indeed Australia Day.
j. See my previous comments?
Oh dear. I get that you’re very passionate. I feel for those poor American submariners who died back in WW2 too, really I do. But the relevance is lacking. You just keep missing the point that for all your thoughts on the Collins project it didn’t happen in a vacuum. You have shown you don’t understand Australian politics around defence. You just don’t. And you don’t care to. Australians with even a passing interest in politics know there were serious shortcomings and cost overruns with the Collins subs. Those of us who post here and have an interest in defence know more, of course. And you’re not really shedding any light on facts we didn’t already know, while your opinions are just that - your opinions, devoid of any understanding of the Australian context.
k. How are corrupt incompetent Australian civilian politicians who do not understand the technical and FATAL consequences of their wrong choices different from the American bastards? The ones I really hold in contempt are the uniformed professionals who KNOW what a wrong choice means. It does not matter what nation or what interest; a military professional who knows the outcome of a technical decision...
a1. Narrow body C-130.
b1. Augusta helicopter gunship whose vibration is so bad the missile systems are rendered useless.
c1. M1 tank too heavy to sealift with the means to hand.
d1. Noisy submarine that because of hull turbulence, botched screws, diesel engine harmonics, and faulty welds is limited to certain speed bands and operating depths. A noisy boat cannot hear what happens around it. It will be easy to find and chase off or neutralize. A rather mechanically defective platform that has availability of less than 25% leaves holes in the alliance coverage means that other "friends" have to fill a void and it renders Australia's voice at the collective decision table impotent because a lack of capacity means no money in the game that others at the table will notice or care about.
will mean failure in peace and war. THAT is the context. That is the thesis and that is the depth of the problem.
The problem with the critics of the Future Submarine project is they lack a better alternative. Sure SSNs would be better, but they aren't available to us and certainly wouldn't be cheaper, as I've said there is no shelf off which to buy SSNs. Off shelf diesel electric subs also come with a host of problems in the Australian context, even the Japanese subs don't meet our needs and that's before the problem of being Japan's first ever weapons export.
l. Japan was and IS the better alternative. They have the battery. It has lots of problems, but it at least works and exists.
The only solution is a bespoke one, and no bespoke piece of military kit comes easy or cheap.
m. Nuclear is in evolution. The USN is "optimistic".
DCNS at least has a very long history of making decent submarines. Heck the current Rubis class submarine cut and weld job is an example of some pretty nifty Engineering skills. Saw someone post the hull may be depth limited but i am curious on that as the welds would be on the same scale as a new hull in terms of the welding and I am sure the engineers would have known what they intended.
n. French steels are quite good. French metallurgy is on a par with the best. The question is the type of welding used. The French are not known for deep operations requirements, so their welds are not "stringent" or full through (Like Sweden.). Look at their areas of interest, off the west coast of Africa and in the Mediterranean sea and eastern Atlantic. Deep is not a requirement. It might not be for Japan, Australia or the RoK because of similar "floor depths" but the three nations have decided a through full through weld is their requirement.
Not just making but exporting too, and France has been a major exporter of military equipment for well over a century. This counts for more than having a sub that is closer to Australia's requirement from a supplier with no idea of how to support a customer for decades to come.
o. French firms have lobbied and bribed and influenced. (Which nation has not? Cough "Lockmart" cough.). As long as the purchaser involved understands these firms are known to have done this behavior
and looks out for the lying, conniving, and chicanery, then doing business can be "manageable". Naval Systems Group has promised the dense storage slow discharge battery that will make Barracuda work. They do not have it. See the video above for what I mean. They are not there yet. Eventually they will get it, because the French are good, but in two years? That is the gamble with NSG that Australia makes, that their Australian dollars will result in a French success in such a submarine battery. Australian taxpayers fund that research. Note the word... research?
You know I want to break open the coffers - just not for Army! The RAAF and RAN need to be doubled in size at the very least.
p. That is a political decision.
Konfrontasi presented a genuine risk at creating a situation in SE Asia that was not to our benefit. To be sure, this was a pretty remote possibility. There's just not any other possible example of the ADF having an active role in our security post-WW2. And as others have said, LARP=Live Action Role Play, of which politicians like Howard and Abbott were incredibly fond of.
q. That is called geo-politics, not live action role play. It is a small planet and no one knows for certain when some maniac somewhere will take it into his head to hijack an LNG tanker, false flag it, and try to sail it into a harbor and detonate it to cause an international incident and make a political statement. Having a sub in trail to kill it out in the middle of nowhere unnoticed might be a LARP option. Surface ships and aircraft tend to be noticed.
Giving NSW to the Royal Navy as the problem owner from 1770. No “shire,” probably no Coal River special camp. No “crowded by the mountains,” mentality. No squatocracy attempt. A different attitude towards mounted police and occupying land.
r. An interesting "political" POD. See map.
Uranium | Geoscience Australia
People asked for a different mentality. That’s a pretty obvious route.
The existing coastal transport industry in NSW was deliberately obliterated by the Labour state government’s road programme. This was in part because individual car ownership made for a better class of worker engaged in the Australian project. And it was because seaman’s unions and dock unions and maritime metals fabricators and maintainers were run by the factions in the labour movement that Cahills faction opposed.
s. Mining interests? Remember the US steel industry and the modern steel United States Navy? Civilian economic policy (West Virginia coal miners, too.) drives military outcomes. I need not point out Goat Island?
The economic potential for long term shipbuilding has to overcome or accommodate these unions. Accommodation can work fine: NSW Teachers federation was demobilized by 50 years of accommodation. The Sydney printing trades were allowed to fade softly into the night along with the Sydney Journalists. So it isn’t predetermined that expanding (teaching) or contracting (print media) industries with militant left unions will be fought rather than accommodated into passivity. The difference is margins. Much like construction where left militant unions have been coddled teaching and print advertising had high margins.
t. The soft power exertion by external agents has altered economies and this has largely gone unnoticed. Policy decisions influenced by narrow sighted, short term oriented or frankly incompetent political governing classes has also allowed certain technical bases to wither and left polities at the mercy of external agents. I think the classic naval example is how the British Crown Government abandoned or curtailed operating and building aircraft carriers and submarines in the UK. Now look at them. Incompetent is kind of generous to describe their recent amateur efforts in these two areas now that they've discovered they NEED the capabilities as a matter of national survival in the 21st century. They are an ISLAND nation damnit.
Maritime trades didn’t. Maritime transport has a history of hell ships running on margins tighter than their workers belts. And tight margins means brutal fights.
u. Keep a capacity or another East Timor becomes undoable. Want to rely on someone else for sea and air lift? Like the Ukraine?
Which is why you send it to a greensfield like south Australia. So you want Ming to set up in the 1950s a greens field military construction facility in south Australia which’s produce monopolist coastal transports in the lean RAN years. That’s wacky, it’s not impossible, but it’s wacky. Maybe nobody has fit ships during the birth of Indonesia and Ming realizes that the Australian National Associated Line of Ships needs to exist now, to give him options later. And part of that is a destroyer and below build programme / landing ships ongoing. It isn’t impossible for Ming: he founded public universities and expanded free university dramatically to invest in long term economics.
v. See previous comments.
Then you’ve got a non-Gardeners Island option that’s clean from NSW unions or NSW Labour detesting coastal shipping. Because Labor isn’t going to provide such a capability in office: left unions control the docks and 50s or 60s Labor will be ALP right.
w. Politics (domestic) has unforeseen military consequences. (r->v.). Generally, wherever one finds domestic political decision making (Like the IBEW in the United States, is still federally encouraged to run a robust apprenticeship program so that journeymen electricians will be a thing in the American deep south where a lot of shipbuilding happens...). Not all American politicians (Carl Vinson for example who was pro-labor in a certain specific case.) were or are incompetent stupid bastards.
I am of the view that given a few assumptions (which I think are defensible) if we do not begin with an aim of increasing the air and sea forces of Australia by that sort of margin we will find ourselves as New Zealand by mid century, that is, strategically impotent on a very essential level. These assumptions are:
x. Getting there.
1. Meaningfully growing the modern defence force rapidly is probably impossible. The depth of training and expertise required is such that it can only grow slowly, and while capital acquisition can be sped up if need be that is far less efficient than steadily building up over time, and would probably be of inferior quality given our experience with how difficult it is to develop Australia-appropriate capabilities using international suppliers from different contexts. RAN more than the RAAF on this one. If we need a powerful defence force today, we needed to start investing in it at least a decade ago - probably a lot more.
y. Getting there.
2. Despite their own incompetence, our neighbours are societies on such incredible scales that for us to keep up with the sheer quantity that they will be able to field by mid to late century we need to invest tremendously in our defence force to retain strategic autonomy and significance. It's worth noting that even a country like Thailand will be able to outspend us fairly easily if they approach even half our GDP per capita, and they will during our lifetimes.
z. Getting there.
3. Beyond just keeping up with our neighbours, we will be living in extremely unstable circumstances. US power has collapsed and we don't know what the floor is, the PRC may or may not meaningfully pursue regional hegemony but they're hardly the only state that could grow to destabilise the region over the next century.
aa. Collapsed? Changed. Look to the skies and ask what is happening in the new frontier. That is where the vector is.
4. We've seen the ADF gutted several times since WW1, and every time it has been due to political incompetence. It is impossible to fully insulate against this, but a larger defence force will be much less vulnerable given that it will represent a much more significant part of the electorate directly and indirectly. I fundamentally distrust every political party in Australia on this matter, including my own, and I'd like to see the ADF less vulnerable to their capricious cuts.
bb. Still not quite there.
5. Least important but still worth mentioning, I think this would represent sufficient continuous investment and the creation of a sufficiently large skills base to greatly support the industrial and technological capacities of the nation. Not a reason to do it on its own, but a valuable benefit.
cc. But headed in the right direction. Domestic decisions have consequences.
I don't have a specific set of capabilities in mind when I say this, nor a number of ships/planes/subs or the like. A doubled RAN/RAAF would be a fundamentally more capable force and could do things the current iterations cannot try to do. I don't think we need a carrier, for example, but that would be within reach with the kind of funding I'm suggesting. I guess the obvious ones would be a lot more subs and a lot more F35s/equivalents, and missiles of various types. I wouldn't stop there of course. Some sort of space capability might become necessary in coming decades, and I rather suspect the nuclear option will be seriously explored if the global order continues to decay.
dd. Submarines and a near space reconnaissance and presence capability go together. Think about it.
In terms of Army, IMO the army is strategically irrelevant and therefore mostly a waste of money. I don't say this with the sort of glee you might imagine my fellow inner city lefties would tend to, but I cannot see a situation where Army would actually play a role in defending us other through land-based missiles perhaps. Light infantry and useful in the context of the South Pacific, we should have some at least, but beyond that I don't see the point.
ee. The planet is 70% covered by water and 100% by air, and weather effects define the use and control of those media we call the ocean and the atmosphere. Australia is an island and refer to dd. Think about it.
You know I basically agree with almost every word. I mean, I do think if you're going to double the Navy then a carrier should be on the table, or at least a couple of ASW optimised helicopter carriers (like the Japanese have built), and I disagree about the Army, but otherwise pretty agreeable.
ff. The aircraft carrier is a limited expensive OBVIOUS effector. Sharp eyes, a knife and quick wits are of more use than a loud clumsy shotgun in the street alley planet we now inhabit. Refer to q and r and remember Australia is an ISLAND nation with a limited population and means.
Pick that submarine WISELY.