Does the RAN need more submarines? Allan Behm thinks so. His response to Mr Rudd’s recent speech was to say we needed 12-15 subs.

Leading defence strategist Allan Behm, who has provided advice to the Government on defence policy, said: “The best bang for your buck comes from submarines.”

To cover Mr Rudd’s ambitious military plan, the federal Government would have to review its current 3 per cent annual growth cap on defence spending.

Under the Behm plan, the army would escape largely unscathed but the RAAF would be forced to halve its $16 billion order for 100 futuristic F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to cover the cost of the new generation subs.

Another $2.5 billion of savings would be achieved if the Government decided not to proceed with a fourth Air Warfare Destroyer.

At least 12-15 new generation submarines would be needed to provide the sort of capability edge envisaged by Mr Rudd, Mr Behm said.

He explains the reasons here. But it ain’t going to happen. We can’t fully crew the six submarines we have let alone double the number, and we would have to gut the other services to afford them.

The trouble is the current subs don’t have the speed planners hoped for. As Abraham Gubler writes:

Rather than double the future submarine fleet we just need to increase the transit speed to match that originally required for the Oberon replacement. For a two month patrol to a location 4,000 NM from FBW (East China Sea, Arabian Sea) an improvement on transit speed from 10 knots to 16 knots would enable an on station improvement of 45%. This means you can achieve almost twice as much tactical presence from the faster boat. So six 16 knot submarines (Oberon replacement specification) would have the combat power of 12 10 knot submarines (Collins class). The faster submarine achieves this without requiring massive increase in submarine crews and supporting infrastructure.

Nuclear submarines would have more then enough speed and range but without a local nuclear industry we couldn’t maintain them so have to rule them out. (In my view this is one of the best reasons for developing a nuclear industry but that’s a topic for another day).

However not all is lost. Improvements in technology including high temperature super conductor electric motors and Lithium-ion batteries mean the superior specifications can be met. The Collins subs will need to be replaced in the2020 decade so the RAN will begin the procurement procedures in 2010 .

They will be looking at two options, a commercial of the shelf design based on the Collins and a design incorporating the new technology. If the governments wants the RAN to have submarine force that can properly do the job then the new technology design has to be a strong contender.

For more information see Abraham Gubler’s excellent article in the April issue of Defense Technology International.


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