Australia's Attack-class Submarines
Global Times (环球时报)
14 February 2020

The following is a translation of an article published by the Global Times (环球时报) about the Royal Australian Navy’s new Attack-class submarines.

Australia spends heavily on 12 super submarines, Experts say they could contain China in the South China Sea


The Australian government and a French shipbuilding giant have formally signed a contract worth a total A$50 billion, to order 12 conventionally powered Attack-class submarines.  According to experts, this type of submarine can be regarded as a super-normal propulsion submarine, converted from nuclear to conventional. It has high submerged sailing time and endurance at sea. When it enters service the South China Sea could become an important area of activity for the submarine, exacerbating tensions in that theatre.


The New Zealand Herald’s Chinese-language website reported on 12 February that the first submarines will be delivered in 2030. According to reports, France won the tender in April 2016 to construct them in Australia, beating Japan and Germany. The two sides formally signed a military purchase agreement in Australia in December the same year. However, the final contract for the construction of the submarines has been postponed because of negative news reports in Australian media of excessive costs and production delays. According to the Sputnik, the first of the submarines will be named “Attack”.


Chinese military expert Li Jie said in an interview with a Global Times reporter on 13 February that one of the main reasons Australia purchased the 12 submarines from France is because its own Collins-class submarines were old and poorly performing. It has a need to comprehensively upgrade its naval combat capability at the same time.


Another Chinese military expert interviewed by the Global Times reporter said that the Attack-class submarine can be regarded as converted from nuclear to conventional. It is a conventionally powered submarine based on the new generation of French “Barracuda”-class nuclear attack submarines. When France proposed it to Australia, it was named after the Australian native species “Shortfin Barracuda” and later renamed “Attack”.


The Barracuda-class nuclear submarine has an underwater displacement of more than 5,000 tons, and the Attack-class has a displacement of up to 4,500 tons. It uses an advanced hydrodynamic shape and a pumping main propeller with good mute effect. The noise at low speed is expected to be lower than the nuclear-powered Barracuda and lower than the ocean background noise. This class of submarines was the largest tonnage of all the proposals at the time of bidding, and it is also the largest tonnage conventionally powered submarine confirmed for construction in the world.


Because it uses an air-free propulsion system, its underwater diving time is more than 20 days and it is self-sustaining for 3 months at sea. And since the submarine design is derived from the “Barracuda”-class nuclear-powered submarine, theoretically there is also the possibility of converting it from conventional to nuclear, which could further improve its underwater endurance, decreasing the probability of being discovered.


It can perform diverse tasks


The Australian submarine design was purchased from France, and the submarine’s weapon systems and sensors will be designed and installed by US defence giant Lockheed Martin. The company signed a A$700 million contract with Australia in 2018 to design, manufacture and integrate combat systems for Australia’s future submarine projects. According to analysis, the combat system could be based on the AN/BYG-1 combat system. The basic weaponry could include multi-type mines, Harpoon anti-ship guided missiles, and Mk48 Mod7 heavy torpedoes.


As well as conventional anti-ship missiles and heavy torpedoes, the submarine can also be equipped with submarine-launched cruise missiles with a range of more than 1,500 kilometres. The equipping with cruise missiles, together with the stealth of the submarines, will greatly enhance the strategic deterrence of the Royal Australian Navy. Because its hull is large, it can also be equipped with more electronic monitoring and reconnaissance equipment. When that is done, submarines of this class will carry out anti-submarine and anti-ship tasks, maritime blockades, reconnaissance and surveillance, and support land combat and special operations.


The South China Sea may become an important area of activity


Li Jie believes that 4-6 of the 12 future submarines could enter the Canberra-class aircraft carrier formations cruising with the United States in the South China Sea, possibly even performing the task of blockading the strategic strait at a time of war.


An anonymous Chinese military expert told the Global Times that dependence on the Asia-Pacific market has made the South China Sea a maritime lifeline for Australia. Australia has paid particular attention to the South China Sea in recent years, so it could become an important area of activity for Australian submarines.


However, submarines are offensive weapons that are difficult to use in protecting traffic routes. The expert pointed out that this class of submarines is active in the South China Sea region and could perform tasks such as intelligence gathering and surveillance, maritime strikes, blockades and support for land operations. In addition to performing tasks alone, they can also share intelligence with US and Japanese maritime forces, contain China’s underwater forces, and perform tasks with the US Navy in the South China Sea.


Li Jie believes Australia’s action is intended to show that it is another regional power apart from India in the Indo-Pacific region. Therefore, these submarines will perform more independent cruise missions in the future, and fewer formations with US ships. On the other hand, the US will also require Australia to play a more important role in the Indo-Pacific region. It is very likely that Australia will participate in joint military exercises and joint cruises organized by the US in the South China Sea.


The New Zealand Herald’s Chinese-language website believes some commentators have reservations about the military cooperation between Australia and France, because it will undoubtedly exacerbate tensions in the Pacific.


Li Jie believes China should increase anti-submarine forces in the relevant sea areas against future actions of extraterritorial countries in the South China Sea. “We must further establish and practise three-dimensional anti-submarine systems to enhance anti-submarine capacity on islands, underwater and in the air. When other countries’ submarines enter the region, we must be able to respond effectively, to deter them from action, and to ensure that the sea traffic lines are unimpeded”.


Translation by: Graeme Ford, NAATI Certified Professional Translator (Chinese-English), NAATI Practitioner no. 5046

Date of Translation: 22 February 2019

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