11 January 2010

Future submarine: long lead-time items

In Future submarine: no time to waste I suggested that the project to design and build a submarine to replace the Collins class from 2025 is starting to bump into some very stringent timelines.

Fifteen years might seem like a leisurely timetable for building a 4,500 tonne boat, but consider the following major contributors to the leadtime:

(1) Time to design and build

- The Collins class took 6 million man hours to design and 2 million man hours to build.

- The new United States Virginia class attack submarines took 18 million man hours to design and 10 million man hours to build.

- From cutting steel to delivery of the first of class was 6 years in both cases.

- There is a limit to the number of people than can be engaged productively at the one time on design or build, even if there were no limit to the number of people with the appropriate skills. We cannot halve the design or the build time by putting twice as many people to work.

(2) Research and development

Aside from the R&D task that will flow from the evolution of a whole range of technologies relevant to submarine and anti-submarine warfare, there is a huge R&D agenda directed to more prosaic matters which will drive the design and performance of the new submarines.

There will be a need to find a large production diesel and generator which can be utilised with minimum modification, suitable batteries, and a snort induction system from head valve to exhaust.  These will all be new, because no-one else in the diesel electric submarine world has our requirement for power, and they are all critical to the submarine’s noise signature.

These basic technical issues will take time to resolve, and until we resolve them we cannot design the submarine.  The laws of physics as they apply to submarines impose very rigorous constraints. The length to beam ratio must be in the range 1:7-10. Anything which adds weight must be offset either by removing an equivalent weight or by increasing the internal volume, which in turn requires an increase in the diameter of the pressure hull to maintain the required length:beam ratio.

Until we know the size, weight and performance of the main elements of the onboard equipment, we cannot begin to design the submarine.

This work must commence as a matter of urgency. It must be undertaken by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) and it must be funded in 2010-11. In order to set the scene, we must have the decisions outlined in Future submarine: no time to waste.

(3) Qualified submariners

While the size of the submarine workforce might have little direct impact on the time required to deliver the first of class, the size and skills of the submarine workforce are critical to the future submarines becoming a military capability – if we cannot crew the submarine fleet with submariners who have the skills and training to take it into harm’s way, why have it?

The history of the crewing of the Collins Class is not a good story. We have never been willing or able to crew the fleet, and the lack of available sea time has had a critical impact on our capacity to train additional crew – we are in a downward spiral in which we cannot put more than two out of six submarines to sea because of lack of crew, and we have trouble expanding the submarine workforce because we cannot put enough submarines to sea.

In Managing the submarine workforce, I described the measures being taken to address this problem and provided a link to the Submarine Workforce Sustainability Review which was undertaken by Rear Admiral Rowan Moffitt, now Project Director for SEA 1000, the future submarine project.

The Chief of Navy is addressing the problem, but I am not convinced we are doing enough to put ourselves in a position to crew twelve new submarines as they are delivered from 2025. On current plans, five years from now crew limitations mean we will still be operating only three out of six submarines, of which we could expect to put a maximum of two to sea at any one time. We will have to learn to do better at matching manpower to platforms than that, and we really need to accelerate the program to redress the crewing problem.

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