Saab Pitches Collins Submarine Upgrade

SYDNEY — Although it is no longer in the race to supply Australia’s future submarine, Saab Kockums is proposing an upgrade to a number of the Royal Australian Navy’s Collins-class boats, based on Sweden’s Gotland-class midlife upgrade.

Speaking at the Pacific 2015 Maritime Exhibition in Sydney last week, a Saab senior executive said the company respected the Australian government’s decision to exclude it from the Collins replacement program but saw a Collins midlife upgrade as a cost-effective measure to maintain capability in the interim.

“In Australia, you have decided on a new submarine program, which is fantastic, but it’s not going to be here for a number of years and it is a very big undertaking,” said Gunilla Fransson, Saab’s senior vice president, Security & Defence Solutions.

“I think there is an opportunity to make sure that the Collins is as close to a modern and new submarine that you can get, by increasing its capability and delivering a cost-effective solution for your underwater capabilities.”

Australia is looking to acquire up to 12 new conventional submarines under Project Sea 1000, but has a tight timeline if it wishes to avoid further full cycle docking overhauls, which will need to be performed on at least two submarines if the Collins needs extending beyond 2030.

There is no off-the-shelf solution that will meet Australia’s requirements for a larger (greater than 4,000 tons) conventional submarine and a competitive evaluation process (CEP) is underway to evaluate proposed designs from DCNS of France, TKMS of Germany and a submarine design from Japan.

However, the slow progress of the program is causing concern that the submarines cannot be designed, selected and built in time to avoid a Collins life extension.

The CEP is due to be concluded at the end of November, with a decision on whether the evaluation will move forward with one or two designs. Each of the bidders has to provide three alternative proposals for the construction of the new submarines, ranging from an offshore build, a hybrid construction model (where the first boats are built in the manufacturer’s own yard before transitioning to local construction), to full construction in Australia.

“The CEP for the future submarine project is woefully inadequate as a vehicle for collecting data and it won’t produce sufficiently detailed information for a well-informed value-for-money decision,” Andrew Davies, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said on Oct. 8.

“The agreement on that point is so strong across the board. We note Warren King [the previous head of Australia’s military equipment procurement and sustainment agency, the Defence Materiel Organisation] today calling for an extra year in the CEP.”

The Collins-class boats were built by the Australian Submarine Corp. (now ASC) in South Australia and although the yard today supports fleet sustainment, including full cycle docking overhauls, submarine construction in Australia finished with the delivery of the sixth and final boat in early 2003.

Davies warned that if delays to the already tight introduction of the Sea 1000 submarine occur, the resultant full cycle docking (FCD) work to extend the Collins boats to avoid a capability gap will not be easy.

“A further FCD wouldn’t be more of the same because it is taking the boats beyond their design life and a significant technological refresh would be needed to keep them competitive until late next decade,” he said.

“The engineering work to plan for that really should be underway now. We know studies have been done and that there are no show stoppers, but I don’t think any serious work has been done. It really needs to start now, and the FCD of the remaining boats could benefit from it as well.”

The Collins submarine was designed by Kockums (now Saab Kockums) and developed in parallel with Sweden’s Gotland-class boats so the two share a similar heritage.

In late June, Sweden’s Defense Materiel Administration signed a contract with Saab Kockums for the midlife upgrade of the Swedish Navy’s three Gotland submarines, to be completed in the 2018-2019 time frame, while simultaneously committing to building the new A26 class boats.

“The Gotland is a ‘cousin’ of the Collins class and it’s been a quality submarine that the customer has been very happy with,” Fransson said.

“And I think that the [midlife upgrade] is very much in line with the necessity for the Collins class. In my view you have an opportunity here to not only sustain Collins but to upgrade it to a submarine that is modern and new, like we are doing with Gotland.”

Fransson said that if Saab’s proposal for a Collins midlife upgrade is accepted, the work would be undertaken in Australia

“You sustain the Collins boats here in Australia and I don’t see any reason why you could not upgrade them here,” she said.

“Saab would certainly like to position ourselves to support Australia in an extended Collins life of type. You have a very capable local submarine company in ASC, which certainly has the capability to perform the work, together with Saab Kockums and other local Australian companies.”