PARIS — Lockheed Martin will report this summer results of studies for potential suppliers of sonar and other critical systems for Australia's planned fleet of 12 new attack submarines, said Mike Oliver, program director for the future submarine combat system.
"Lockheed Martin has been conducting trade studies in a number of key areas of the submarine's design," he told Defense News. "We are examining all options and will deliver the results of those trade studies in June to the customer."
Sonar is among the key systems, the company's program team said.
Australia this time last year picked DCNS to build the future submarine after a tender which pitted the French company against Germany's ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, backed by Tokyo.
"The choice of sonar systems and arrays is in the hands of Lockheed Martin," Marie-Pierre de Bailliencourt, general manager at DCNS, told Defense News.
Canberra in September selected Lockheed as combat system integrator, partnering with DCNS, which will design, build and service a fleet of 12 ocean-going diesel-electric boats. The program is worth AUS$50 billion ($38.1 billion) over some 35 years.
A survey of sonar and other systems marks a first step in a selection process that Thales hopes to win through its Australian subsidiary.
The French electronics company expects to secure more than €1 billion of deals, with €100 million per boat based on sonar systems, electronic warfare and periscopes. A towed sonar array is part of the kit.
A Thales spokesperson declined comment.
Thales in November won a design and pre-production contract to modernize Australia's six-strong fleet of Collins subs, with upgrades on cylindrical and flank arrays, and onboard processing. Winning that deal was seen as highly promising for work on the future boats.
Lockheed's June report will lead to a further round of studies to slim down the list of possible suppliers for a competition due next year.
"We expect to issue request for tender in the second quarter of 2018," Oliver said. Contract award is due in the fourth quarter.
"Lockheed would have a permanent presence, with software integration of the Aegis combat management system," said Robbin Laird, analyst with consultancy ICSA based in Washington and here. That combat system allows the Australian Navy to be interoperable with the US Navy.
The AUS$50 billion contract, or €34-€35 billion, will include maintenance, port infrastructure, training and other areas, with the remaining amount split 75 percent for the platform and 25 percent for the combat system, said de Bailliencourt, adding that those were rough estimates.
"So that is not AUS$50 billion for DCNS, and paid tomorrow," she said.
An industry executive said some €20 billion was the core amount, with 75 percent for DCNS and 25 percent for Lockheed.
That budget covers some 30-35 years, with the first of the attack submarines to be launched early in the 2030s, said Didier Husson, DCNS program director. Husson, who regularly flies to Adelaide as the point executive, was one of a five-strong team which started work two years ago, drafting a bid to build the Australian boat. A naval architect and a specialist in export licensing also worked on that team.
A first boat to hit the water is expected in 2031, followed by sea trials with the combat system with the Australian Navy, Husson said.
"Overall, it's a fairly new submarine," he said, basing the exterior and hydrodynamics on the French Barracuda nuclear-powered attack boat, but with a different interior as the Australian sub will be conventionally powered.
The design studies, to be done in France, will take years, while the boats will be built in Australia, de Bailliencourt said.
DCNS has picked suppliers for five critical areas, which Australia will certify.
"We have validated with the Commonwealth (of Australia) the five leading suppliers of the first order mainly for the propulsion system and missile launcher," she said.
Other systems include a battery from an Australian firm, Pacific Machine Battery, which is undergoing certification, and electricity generator.
A further 40 critical suppliers are in the process of selection, followed by 200 important suppliers and standard suppliers. DCNS will look to select Australian firms for the former, but there are not many that fit the requirements, de Bailliencourt said. An option is to pick French firms ready to set up business in Australia and develop there.
A number of Australian companies exhibited at the Euronaval trade show in October, reflecting a fostering of ties on the submarine program.
This will be a year of contracts, de Bailliencourt said, with DCNS hoping to sign a design contract by the end of 2017. There are contracts for building the boats, and design and construction of the Adelaide base.
The contractual framework is being set up between the three partners. DCNS signed in February a bilateral agreement with Lockheed, and in March a trilateral pact binding the French and U.S. firms and Australia.
There are negotiations "with the Commonwealth (of Australia) for a strategic partnership agreement" due to be signed in October, she said. That covers aspects including economic, financial, and intellectual property rights.
It is too early to give figures on procurement as much depended on decisions on design, which is still "work in progress," she said. Once the design is accepted, equipment and suppliers can be determined.
Around 2021, negotiations are due to start on the contract to build the boats, with construction to begin in 2030, de Bailliencourt said.
As the program picks up pace, some 2,000 direct jobs tied to construction in Australia are due to be maintained or created, as well as a large number of indirect jobs, she said.
The industry executive said the indirect local jobs could be 1,500-2,000.
Australia has set sights on the program as a cornerstone for creating a naval industry, and DCNS will transfer technology by signing over "design authority" to Australia, she said. That would allow Australian engineers to service and modernize over the life of the boats.
Some 50 Australian engineers at Cherbourg, northern France, are working with DCNS, focusing on the technology, which will help them maintain the boats.