France torpedoes German and Japanese submarine bids
France’s DCNS has been selected as winner of Australia’s AU$50 billion (US$38.5 billion) Project Sea 1000 Future Submarine programme.
The Cherbourg-based shipbuilder will help design and build Australia’s class of 12 submarines to replace six Collins class boats in Royal Australian Navy (RAN) service.
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and defence minister Marise Payne announced on 26 April that the French offering had beaten competition from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) and a consortium led by Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries following a ‘rigorous’ competitive evaluation process (CEP).
The 12 boats will be built and sustained by ASC in Osborne, South Australia. The company built Collins class submarines and is currently performing their sustainment.
Turnbull said that the selection team had been ‘unequivocal’ that DCNS had offered the capabilities best able to meet Australia’s needs, which included superior sensor performance and stealth characteristics, as well as range and endurance.
He added ‘the government’s considerations also included cost, schedule, programme execution, through-life support and Australian industry involvement’.
All bidders had to submit options on a complete build in Australia, a wholly overseas build, or a hybrid build both in Australia and overseas. DCNS previously indicated it preferred a hybrid build with the first boat built in France by Australian workers, although it made clear it would defer to any customer decision.
DCNS is offering a conventionally powered version of the Barracuda nuclear-powered attack submarine known as the Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A to meet Australia’s range and endurance requirements. It is expected the process to finalise the design with DCNS will begin later this year, subject to discussions on commercial matters.
This variant will be ‘over 90m in length and displace more than 4,000t when dived’, said Sean Costello, CEO of DCNS Australia. The French bid pledged complete access to the latest stealth technologies utilised aboard French submarines.
DCNS has exported 100+ submarines to nine different customers, and was the only bidder with experience in building submarines of this size.
Australian requirements will also see boats equipped with the Mk48 Mod 7 Common Broadband Advanced Sonar System (CBASS) torpedo jointly developed by Australia and the US, as well as an American combat system expected to be an evolution of the General Dynamics AN/BYG-1 fitted on the Collins class.
Selection of the Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A is not without risks, however. The biggest engineering challenge is likely to be adapting a conventional propulsion system into a nuclear-powered design.
However, Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Studies Institute, noted it is probably a smaller challenge than ‘essentially a new German design and some major modifications to what the Japanese were proposing’.
The decision comes as a blow to the Japanese in particular, with prime minister Shinzo Abe’s government having invested a lot of effort supporting the Japanese bid. It was part of his agenda to shift his country’s role in security and defence, as well as forging a closer strategic relationship with Australia.
For its part, TKMS said it was disappointed with the outcome but respected the process, saying it was conducted with ‘high integrity and professionalism’.