SYDNEY — Although it is no longer in the race to supply Australia's future submarine, Saab Kockums is proposing an upgrade to a number of the Royal Australian Navy's Collins-class boats, based on Sweden's Gotland-class midlife upgrade.
Speaking at the Pacific 2015 Maritime Exhibition in Sydney last week, a Saab senior executive said the company respected the Australian government's decision to exclude it from the Collins replacement program but saw a Collins midlife upgrade as a cost-effective measure to maintain capability in the interim.
"In Australia, you have decided on a new submarine program, which is fantastic, but it's not going to be here for a number of years and it is a very big undertaking," said Gunilla Fransson, Saab's senior vice president, Security & Defence Solutions.
"I think there is an opportunity to make sure that the Collins is as close to a modern and new submarine that you can get, by increasing its capability and delivering a cost-effective solution for your underwater capabilities."
There is no off-the-shelf solution that will meet Australia's requirements for a larger (greater than 4,000 tons) conventional submarine and a competitive evaluation process (CEP) is underway to evaluate proposed designs from DCNS of France, TKMS of Germany and a submarine design from Japan.
However, the slow progress of the program is causing concern that the submarines cannot be designed, selected and built in time to avoid a Collins life extension.
The CEP is due to be concluded at the end of November, with a decision on whether the evaluation will move forward with one or two designs. Each of the bidders has to provide three alternative proposals for the construction of the new submarines, ranging from an offshore build, a hybrid construction model (where the first boats are built in the manufacturer's own yard before transitioning to local construction), to full construction in Australia.
"The agreement on that point is so strong across the board. We note Warren King [the previous head of Australia's military equipment procurement and sustainment agency, the Defence Materiel Organisation] today calling for an extra year in the CEP."
Davies warned that if delays to the already tight introduction of the Sea 1000 submarine occur, the resultant full cycle docking (FCD) work to extend the Collins boats to avoid a capability gap will not be easy.
"A further FCD wouldn't be more of the same because it is taking the boats beyond their design life and a significant technological refresh would be needed to keep them competitive until late next decade," he said.
"The engineering work to plan for that really should be underway now. We know studies have been done and that there are no show stoppers, but I don't think any serious work has been done. It really needs to start now, and the FCD of the remaining boats could benefit from it as well."
The Collins submarine was designed by Kockums (now Saab Kockums) and developed in parallel with Sweden's Gotland-class boats so the two share a similar heritage.
Fransson said that if Saab's proposal for a Collins midlife upgrade is accepted, the work would be undertaken in Australia
"You sustain the Collins boats here in Australia and I don't see any reason why you could not upgrade them here," she said.
"Saab would certainly like to position ourselves to support Australia in an extended Collins life of type. You have a very capable local submarine company in ASC, which certainly has the capability to perform the work, together with Saab Kockums and other local Australian companies."
Nigel Pittaway is the Australia correspondent for Defense News.