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Report: Australia Moving Ahead With $20 Billion Japanese Sub Buy

Undated photo of Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force submarine Soryu (SS-501)

Undated photo of Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force submarine Soryu (SS-501)

Australia is on track to select the Japanese Soryu-class submarines to replace its aging Collins-class submarines in a potential $20 billion deal for 10 to 12 boats, according to a Monday report by the Australian news service, news.com.au.
Citing unnamed government sources, the report says the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott will announce a deal for the diesel electric attack boats (SSKs) by the end of the year to replace the six domestically built Collins-class — due to retire by 2026.

“The Government cannot afford a submarine capability gap and every day past 2026/27 when Collins class is due to begin decommissioning, adds days of risk,’’ a defense source told news.com.au.

The news follows a July agreement between Japan and Australia to partner on marine hydrodynamics ahead of a replacement for the Collins-class boats and a recent reinterpretation of the Japanese 1947 pacifist constitution that allows Japan to enter collective defense arrangements.

The partnership quickly evolved into Australia buying the submarines outright.

An export deal for the Soryu-class SSKs would be a major step forward in foreign military sales (FMS) for Japan and a blow to the Australian shipbuilding industry that built the original Collins.

The Abbott government has said previously it would build the Collins replacement domestically, but the poor track record of government-owned ASC Pty Ltd (originally Australian Submarine Corporation) in constructing the late and over-budget Hobart-class destroyer for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) made it easier for the Abbott government to move ahead with a purchase of the Soryu boats.

Royal Australian Navy Collins-class submarine HMAS Sheean (SSG-77) near the Sydney Opera House. RAN Photo

Royal Australian Navy Collins-class submarine HMAS Sheean (SSG-77) near the Sydney Opera House. RAN Photo

ASC will likely pickup maintenance contracts for the Japanese built SSKs.

The Soryu design — built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries — is considered among the most advanced and largest non-nuclear attack submarine in the world. Displacing about 4,200 tons submerged, the submarine is powered by a series of four Swedish Sterling V4-275R air independent propulsion (AIP) units that allow the ship to operate its diesels without the need to surface or snorkel.

Though the deal seems likely, neither Australian nor Japanese officials would comment on the report.

“No decisions have yet made on the design and build of the next generation of Australian submarines,” a Austrailian Defence Ministry spokeswoman told news.com.au.

The spokeswoman said more clarity would be in the Australian defense white paper — a strategic planning document due out later this year.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Well, another market missed out on because we have no conventional sub industry here in this country. Oh well…

    • Secundius

      @ Chesapeakeguy.

      We already have Stirling-Steam Engine technology in our country. The first Stirling Steam Engine, was produced in 1816, how difficult could it be to reverse-engineer a Virginia class SSN, into a Stirling V4-275R/Diesel class SS Boat.

      • KazuakiShimazaki

        The Virginia is too big, so the Stirling won’t move it at a decent speed.

        • Secundius

          @ KazuaklShlmazaki.

          The ALBACORE, was the precursor for all modern US. Navy “Tear-Drop” shaped modern submarines, and was Diesel Powered. Like the “Phoenix” resurrect her from the grave, modernize her to 21st century standards. And outfit her with the Air Induction Stirling V4-275R Steam Propulsion System.

  • Ctrot

    “the submarine is powered by a series of four Swedish Sterling V4-275R air independent propulsion (AIP) units that allow the ship to operate its diesels”

    This is incorrect. The AIP system drives the sub in place of the diesels when submerged, not in tandem with.

  • Matthew

    And me being in Australia I can state for a fact that if we get the Soryu then we will have made a massive mistake.

    The Soryu while being a very good submarine is short ranged (little over 11,000km) which is fine for Japan where they are located but for Australia we are in a position that has us having to watch almost a quarter of the world, We rely on our submarines being able to sneak up to enemy ports for recon and intel, The Soryu is so short ranged that it couldn’t make a solo trip from Darwin to Vladivostok and back.

    For all the bad press the current Collins class get’s they are still a decent submarine, Most of the faults have been ironed out and there availability is only getting better each year, They also have a range just over 21,000km.

    Hopefully the Abbott government here in Australia ditches this proposal as they would just be a step back in capability. Our safest choice would be either the acquisition of the German type 216 from HDW or an evolved Collins class using basic same hull shape but with AIP, new engines, updated weapons etc etc. Either of these two would give a range of 19,500km+.

    Should also point out the Japanese offered the Soryu class for 12 to be built in Japan for $25 billion, While the Germans offered the Type 216 for 12 of them to be built here in Australia for $20 billion and it has a greater range not to mention would have commonality with the ROK submarines and the future type 218SG submarines for Singapore. Gives you an idea how smart Aussie politicians are, Can China please nuke Canberra next time they all sit down to wreck Australia.

    • RobM1981

      Great points, all. Is there a chance that the Soryu’s can be built with more diesel bunkerage? Stretch them a meter or two? I know that this isn’t trivial, but these kinds of changes have been done with other designs many times.

      I’m curious to know why commonality with Singapore or SK is so desirable? You’d have commonality with Japan, of course, but again – what does that gain you?

      • Matthew

        You could stretch the submarine however that also comes with risks, The Collins class was stretched and that resulted in greater noise and other faults that wasn’t fixed until over a decade later, Also need’s to be determined if it would affect how the submarine sits in the water or if it would even give it comparable range..

        As for commonality, In peace times it can provide for cheaper part’s if we all get from the same suppliers, Cost per a unit goes down as the number’s purchased increase. In war times having the same part’s would make the logistics and interoperability fair more simpler. More efficient sending a single type of part to the front rather then multiple different types of the same part.

        Personnaly if was up to me I would go for a larger submarine force, Start with 12 Type 214’s, Already active and proven design. As they are being built refine the type 216 and start building 12 of them, And little after that in joint production build 12 Virginia class nukes. 214’s would give local coverage, 216’s would give regional coverage while the Virginia’s would give global coverage. Also building 36 submarines in a 24-30 year period would make the industry big enough that it would become efficient.

        • RobM1981

          Thanks for the discussion.

          Given the proximity of Japan to Australia, are there logistics advantages of using Soryu? If/when things got serious, having parts sourced from Germany could be more difficult, no?

          Your point on the Soryu’s range – and the risks of stretching – are good. OTOH, the George Washington was a stretched Skipjack. Improved LA was stretched to add VLS. Done wrong, yes, stretching is bad – but maybe it could be done right and get the range up? Pure speculation, of course, and I don’t hear it even being discussed….

          I like the German boats. The newer ones, if you can believe what’s being written, are astonishing. Exempting the electronics suite, they might be more capable than the new Virginia’s in many situations. But the press on the Soryu’s is pretty good, too. Other than range, these seem like pretty amazing boats.


    • IwanRS

      Are you sure the Soryu has shorter range? The only information I could find was an AIP range of 11200km @ 6.5kts, this is larger than the Type 214 AIP range of 2300km @ 4kts. I don’t have the official specifications, but I’m sure she would run longer running on diesels compared to the Stirling engines.

      • Matthew

        Yep positive, The Soryu range is for when it uses all propulsion method’s. Should note that on a technical stand point the Australian’s that have been on the Soryu’s actually pointed out they use a massive amount of electricity compared to other submarines that do the same job which would imply they eat up all their fuel reserves doing so.

        • KazuakiShimazaki

          Do you have a source? Because when I correlate that 11200km I go to Globalsecurity which makes it clear it is a AIP range. Anyway, the Soryu may or may not use more electricity than the norm (though she *is* larger), but generally hotel loads are only a fraction of the needs of the main propulsion plant so this is not likely to be a decisive factor.

          Do remember that for political and pride reasons, a great many Australians are trying to insist on hving subs built in Australia at all costs. Not saying they’d go as far as *lying*, but out of context is definitely on the list of tactics.

    • Beomoose

      The 216 is as yet a paper submarine, though. Even if you take all the stats and estimates as gospel, it’s still notional. After the problems faced with COLLINS, getting a known quantity in Sōryū has an appeal to the RAN. And while the 216’s notional VLS is sexy, I’d argue that Sōryū still has a better sonar suite and combat management system.

      • Matthew

        True the 216 is a paper design however it is a paper design evolved from a current submarine with proven tech. Yes the VLS is sexy but that is not our main need, Our main need is range, Something the Soryu does not have.

        • KazuakiShimazaki

          It is already planned to be twice as large which is a significant complicating factor.

          And you are really betting a *LOT* on that 11200km being the complete range rather than the AIP range. I’ve checked around and some sites do indeed call it the “max” range, but generally if there is only one range value being bandied around and one source has its conditions stated more specifically, it is probably the one that dug a little deeper.

  • Waldez

    Very nice except Australia is headed towards the biggest financial collapse of this century as it’s iron ore prices continue to fall and a middle class house costs more than Manhattan. Australian homes now cost 9 times annual earnings a much worse ratio than any where else in the world and unsustainable. Look for Australia to dramatically curtail defense spending and look for further leases of military bases to the US with a Australian Navy in a supporting role to the US.

    • Falconer375

      Lease of military bases?

  • CaptainParker

    The Collins class have been dogs during their entire service life. The sooner they can be replaced, the better for the Australian Navy. The Japanese build good ships – just take a look at their baby carriers…oops, I mean the helicopter destroyers.

    • Matthew

      No doubt they build good ships but the good ships they build are to their needs. Japans needs and Australia’s are vastly different, There most likely enemy’s are right on their door step making a long range sub redundant. Australia’s are right on our door step and at extreme range, In our region we have to be watching almost a quarter of the world, A short range sub like the Soryu as good as it is just isn’t the right submarine for us.

      It would be fine for local defense but if only local defense then why go to a 4,200t submarine when you can get an 1,800-2,000t type 214, Smaller size allowing more options in the shallow waters of SE Asia.

      As to the Collins class, They may have been the dogs but they have shown to have plenty of bite.

      • Falconer375

        The odd thing about the suppose selection of the Soryu class for the RAN is that the performance of the sub is less than that of Collins in terms of range. It also does not appear to meet the stayed requirements of the submarine acquisition programme in that they have no land attack capability.

        • Matthew

          Which is why I’m of the opinion that the Aussie PM Tony Abbott is only getting this submarine to get better trade relations with Japan… Stupid.

          Get the EU sub, We get the range we want, Size we want and can fit land attack capability to it if we willing to spend a little bit of time making it work oh and China doesn’t care.

          Get the Japanese sub and we dont have the range, dont have the land attack capability and it pisses off our biggest trade partner, China.

      • Secundius

        @ Matthew.

        The German type 214 is a great unterseeboot design, coupled with the Stirling V4-275R. Even greater, the US. Navy, needs to stop put all “Their Eggs Into One Basket” mind set. Or, there going stagnate technology wise. As the rest rest of the worlds Navies, pass us by.

  • Secundius

    With the Stirling V4-275R, Air-Independent Steam Propulsion Unit. It will quieter then all, but the most quietest Nuclear-Powered Submarines, their are. And that won’t be very many!!!

  • Secundius

    You could also upscale the CUTTHROUT design into manned Patrol Submarine, with the Air-Independent Stirling V4-275R Steam/Diesel-Electric Propulsion System, Add a few Torpedoes, Anti-Shipping Missiles & Cruise Missiles. And have a great non-nuclear powered Green Water Patrol Submarine.

  • AL

    It seems the contest between the competing designs is becoming a bit of a draw with trade-offs necessary in range and size and general parity in terms of overall technical performance. What I’m not clear on, and nobody is really addressing, is how an OTS purchase decision now for something that won’t enter service for another ten years (possibly more) is a good idea. Technology moves pretty quickly and geo-politics is never stationary. Whatever they pick, they’ll need to ensure they’re getting a very adaptable platform.