The Royal Australian Navy Submarine Service has been around since 1964 but the Ozzies have been running subs going back to the Great War-era British E class submarines AE1 and AE2, which we have covered here on a Warship Wednesday.
Besides the Es, the Australians operated a half-dozen J-class boats in WWI, two O-class boats in the 1920s, and eight British Oberon-class submarines through the Cold War.
Today, they have the half dozen controversial (but Australian-built!) Collins-class submarines in service that are aging out.
Driven by political pressure against nuclear-powered subs– both Australia and New Zealand have had issues with American “N” prefixes visiting in past years– Canberra signed a contract for a dozen planned Attack-class SSKs from France in a competition that saw both German and Japanese designs come up in a close tie for second place.
However, with the French boats not being able to get operational into some time in the mid-2030s, the Australians are scrapping the stalled French contract and going with a program with the U.S. and Royal Navy to field SSNs.
RAN’s official statement, with a lot more detail than you get elsewhere:
The submarines will be built at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide, where French company Naval Group was to construct the soon-to-be canceled submarines, which is a heavy lift for sure, but not insurmountable.
As SUBSCOL in New London is very good at what they do at training Nuclear Program submariners, and the production line for the Virginia-class boats is white-hot, it is likely something that could be done inside the decade with some sort of technology sharing program similar to how Australian acquired their FFG-7 frigates in the 1980s, provided the RAN can cough up enough submariners (they have a problem staffing their boats now as it is) as well as the cash and political will.
If a Virginia-class variant is chosen, perhaps one could be hot-loaned from COMSUBPAC, with a cadre of specialists aboard, to the Australians for a couple years as a training boat while theirs are being constructed.
Can Canberra buy and man 12 boats? Doubtful, but a 4+1 hull program with one boat in a maintenance period and the four active subs, perhaps with rotating blue/red crews, could provide a lot of snorkel.
Plus, it could see American SSNs based in Western Australia on a running basis, which is something that has never happened. Of course, the precedent is there, as 122 American, 31 British, and 11 Dutch subs conducted patrols from Fremantle and Brisbane between 1942 and 1945 while the Royal Navy’s 4th Submarine Flotilla was based in Sydney from 1949 until 1969.
Of course, the French, who have been chasing this hole in the ocean for five years, are going to raise hell over this.
Meanwhile, off Korea
In related Pacific submarine news, the South Koreans successfully fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile on Wednesday, just hours after North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea.
The ROKN boat, likely the new ROKS Dosan Ahn Changho (SS-083), which just commissioned in August, fired the indigenous Hyunmoo conventional warhead SLBM, of which not much is known. The 3,700-ton Changho-class, of which nine are planned, have six VLS silos for such missiles in addition to their torpedo tubes.