Japan Outlines Bid for Australia’s SEA1000 Future Submarine Program

October 8, 2015 11:52 AM
Undated photo of Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force submarine Soryu (SS-501)
Undated photo of Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force submarine Soryu (SS-501)

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — Japan’s submarine bid team has outlined the details of its proposal for Australia’s SEA1000 Future Submarine program to replace the Royal Australian Navy’s existing Collins-class boats.

Speaking at the Pacific 2015 International Maritime Exposition in Sydney, Australia, officials from the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries-Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation consortium and the Japanese Ministry of Defense have confirmed that if Japan is selected to construct SEA1000, the submarines will be built in Australia with Japanese technology transfer.

Masaki Ishikawa, from Japan’s Ministry of Defense, said that the Japanese consortium is “very confident that we can build boats from Day One in Australia.” In such a scenario, the Japanese are proposing that a training center will be set up in Adelaide (in the state of South Australia) to train 300 engineers involved in the program.

In addition, a full-scale mock-up initially will be built by government-owned Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) in Adelaide to train the Australian submarine workforce. The training is expected to take place over three years, part of which will occur in Kobe, Japan.

However, the Japanese have also suggested that they prefer the hybrid option of initially building some of the Australian submarines in Japan and the rest in Australia, and expect that this will result in Australia taking delivery of the first submarine faster, avoiding the need for building a mock-up for training—saving money in the long term.

The design being offered by the Japanese is a modified Soryu-class diesel-electric submarine, and will run on lithium-ion batteries as opposed to air independent propulsion (AIP). However, AIP could be offered if Australia has such a requirement.

The modified Soryus for Australia will also incorporate a new, Australian-developed hydrodynamic design, while the preferred combat system and a new heavyweight torpedo—which will be the submarine’s primary armament—are being jointly developed by Australia and the United States.

Turning to ASC, the Japanese spoke highly of the Australian shipyard, saying that they thought the Australians had a very good shipyard, but nevertheless adding that ASC will upgrade, given that it will be building the largest conventional submarine in the world.

The controversial SEA1000 program has previously been dogged by government instability in Canberra, vaguely defined requirements and the changing security landscape facing Australia over the past few years.

In a 2009 Defense White Paper, under the government of then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, it was announced that 12 new submarines would be built in Australia by ASC to replace the Collins-class boats, which were due to leave RAN service beginning in 2025.

Despite this, little further work had been done by 2013, when a new government, led by Tony Abbott, came to power. It was no secret that the Abbott government did not hold ASC in high regard after its well-publicized troubles with the Collins program, with then-Defense Minister David Johnston famously declaring in Parliament that he “wouldn’t trust ASC to build a canoe.”

Abbott was known to favor the modified Soryu design to meet Australia’s unique requirements and was rumored to be prepared to have the submarines built entirely in Japan without going through a competitive tender process.

Political pressure soon forced the government to reverse course, instead announcing in February of this year that a “competitive evaluation process” will take place between France’s DCNS, Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Maritime Systems and the Japanese consortium. The three bidders are currently in the process of finalizing their bids, which are due for submission by 30 November.

Australia has a set of very unique requirements for its submarines—expected to operate in a wide range of environments ranging from the cold Southern Ocean to the tropical Coral, Arafura and Timor Seas. They also need to transit long distances from their base in Australia’s far southwest to their designated patrol areas, which could be as far as the South China Sea and the Northern Pacific.

Mike Yeo

Mike Yeo

Mike Yeo is a freelance aerospace/defense journalist/photographer from Singapore based in Melbourne Australia specializing in Asian Air Power matters. He runs Base Leg Aviation News and Photography, and his work has appeared in IHS Jane’s, Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, International Maritime and Port Security and The Diplomat.

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