Collins Class upgrades a mixed scorecard

As the Future Submarine Project - SEA 1000 - continues to move forward at what appears to be a slow pace, Defence will have no choice but to expend even more funds on keeping the Collins Class in service until a viable replacement appears.

7th May 2013

 SEA 1439

 Collins Class upgrades a mixed scorecard

Byline: Kym Bergmann / Canberra

As the Future Submarine Project - SEA 1000 - continues to move forward at what appears to be a slow pace, Defence will have no choice but to expend even more funds on keeping the Collins Class in service until a viable replacement appears. The timing of the replacement of Collins depends very much on whether the new design is based on an existing submarine or if Navy goes down a much higher risk path based on Australia’s “unique” requirements.

The principle vehicle for improvements to Collins is the omnibus project SEA 1439. The Department of Defence has summarized much of what is in the DCP in explaining that there are currently eight sub projects under SEA1439, five approved and three unapproved.

The five approved projects are SEA1439 Phase 3, Phase 4A, Phase 4B, Phase 5B.1 and Phase RCE3. All of these phases are at various capability maturity levels.

• SEA1439 PH3 - Platform Systems Improvements - installations in the last two submarines will be underway later this year. ASC is contracted as Platform System Integrator.
• SEA1439 PH4A - Replacement Combat System - installation in 4 boats complete, 5th is underway, sixth on commencement of Full Cycle Docking (FCD). ASC and Raytheon Australia Pty Ltd are contracted as the Platform System and Combat System integrators respectively and the United States Navy (USN) is involved in Joint development with Australia of the AN/BYG-1 Tactical and Weapon Control system.
• SEA1439 PH4B - Weapon and Sensor Enhancements – 5 boats fitted, sixth on commencing FCD. ASC is contracted as Platform System Integrator, Mc Taggart Scott & Co as equipment supplier and Lockheed Martin Sippican as equipment supplier under an FMS case. SEA1439 PH4B consists of several sub-projects that address issues with the sonar system, communications system and navigation equipment. The project also included the, design procurement and installation of a prototype communications antenna and associated equipment to one submarine. All sub projects are complete with the exception of some navigation equipment that is yet to be installed. The navigation equipment sub-project is scheduled to be completed in 2015.
• SEA1439 PH5B.1 - Communications Mast and Antenna Replacement Class Fit - installation to the last submarine is currently forecast for 2017-18. ASC is contracted as Platform System Integrator, Mc Taggart Scott & Co as equipment supplier and Lockheed Martin Sippican as equipment supplier under a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) case. SEA1439 Phase 5B.1 is the fleet wide fitment of the communications antenna that was prototyped under Project SEA1439 Phase 4B. The final installation is currently forecast for completion in 2017-18.
• SEA1439 PHRCE3 - Communications Capability - Project scope has been delivered.
The three unapproved projects are SEA1439 Phase 3.1, Phase 5B2 and Phase 6.

• SEA1439 PH3.1 - Integrated Ship Control Management and Monitoring System Technology Refresh (ISCMMS). This project is currently subject to Government consideration. No contracts have been established with industry to date.
• SEA1439 PH5B2 - Communications and Electronic Warfare Improvement. This project is currently pre second pass. No contracts have been established with industry to date.
• SEA 1439 PH6 - Sonar Replacement. This project is currently pre first pass. No contracts have been established with industry to date.
Defence explains that expenditure to date on the approved phases of SEA1439 is approximately $868m. Total approved budget for the approved phases of SEA1439 is currently in the order of $974 million. Defence says that - as detailed in the Defence Capability Plan 2012 - SEA1439 PH3.1 has an acquisition cost allocation of less than $100 million, SEA1439 PH5B2 has an acquisition cost range of $500 million to $1b and SEA1439 PH6 has an acquisition cost range of $1billion to $2 billion.
There is a great deal to analyse in the above data. The first observation is that many of these upgrades and improvements are taking a very long time to implement.
The decision to replace the original Rockwell Collins combat system – long since subsumed firstly by Boeing and then Raytheon – was taken way back in 2001 in somewhat controversial circumstances. The RAN evaluated the two strongest competitors – Raytheon and Atlas Elektonik – and preferred the latter on the grounds of performance and price. The German Atlas Elektonik ISUS solution was based on the company’s pedigree of producing combat systems for conventional submarines, while the Raytheon offering was the AN/BGY-1 Weapon Control System that had been developed for the USN’s nuclear powered Virginia Class.
However, the recommendation of the RAN team was overturned at a higher level and the Raytheon solution was selected. It seems extraordinary that 12 years later only four out of six Collins submarines have been equipped with this “new” system.
With reference to delays, it is worth mentioning at this point the history of HMAS Rankin – the 6th submarine in the series. She was launched 41 months late because in the late 1990s during her construction resources had already been diverted to making urgent improvements to other members of the Collins Class. Rankin started a prolonged period of maintenance in 2008 and is still out of the water and is likely to remain so until next year – an extraordinary absence of six years. Cynics might say that this hardly matters because of Navy’s problems in finding enough crews to operate those submarines that are able to function.
With regard to Phase 6 – the sonar replacement – this appears to be a polite fiction. The Defence budget has been under pressure for some time - not only from Government cutbacks but also from a high level of internal waste and inefficiency – and the idea that new sonars will be acquired at a cost of between $1 billion and $2 billion seems fanciful. Far more likely is that the incumbent supplier Thales (for whom the author worked) will continue to carry out a series of far more modest upgrade to equipment that continues to perform quite well. Whatever problems Collins has – and they are numerous – they are not in the domain of the sonar.
Phase 3.1 is another one worth of comment. The current Integrated Ship Management and Control System was provided by Saab (for whom the author also worked) and is one of the under reported success stories of the project. It is a true fly-by-wire system for submarines and was the first of its kind when developed for the Collins Class in the 1980s. Despite requiring very complex software development the system performed exceptionally well right from the beginning and has received progressive updates. To consider replacing it with something different would not seem to make a lot of sense. However, it is facing obsolescence issues and unless ASC and the RAN get a move on with tackling this problem they will reach a point where it can no longer be supported. If that happens then the submarines risk not being able to put to sea.
While SEA 1439 covers many aspects of improving and upgrading Collins, it is not the full story. According to Defence there are currently three approved projects and one unapproved project that do not form part of SEA1439, these are:

• SEA1114 PH3 (Collins Submarine) is responsible for the delivery of six Collins-Class Submarines and associated infrastructure. All six submarines have been accepted into service by Navy. Remaining elements of this project involve platform system upgrades including automation to some emergency systems.
• SEA1429 PH2 (Replacement Heavyweight Torpedo System) is acquiring a replacement Heavyweight Torpedo (HWT) for the Collins class submarine to replace the United States Navy Mk 48 Mod 4 Heavy Weight Torpedo previously in service with the Royal Australian Navy. All four operational boats are fitted with the replacement HWT system, with the remaining boats to be fitted with the system during their current Full Cycle Dockings.
• SEA1446 PH1 (Collins Class Interim Minimum Operating Capability (IMOC)) is responsible for Combat System Augmentation (CSA) and a number of platform system modifications to two submarines and shore infrastructure. CSA work is complete, with the final platform system modification and shore facility upgrade in the final stages of implementation.
• SEA 1354 Replacement (Submarine Escape Rescue and Abandonment System (SERAS) is currently unapproved.

Asked about whether the funds allocated to Collins might be better used to buy new submarines, a Defence spokesperson said:
“The Collins Class Submarines (CCSM) program is looking at opportunities and synergies with SEA1000. Unapproved major capital improvement projects are subject to regular reviews from the perspective of obsolescence and future capability needs of the CCSM. The Service Life Evaluation Program (SLEP) analysis has provided further information, which is guiding the supportability needs of the CCSM. Potential changes to the CCSM capability projects will be subject to Government consideration including any synergies that can be achieved with FSM. SEA1439 is a series of capability upgrades and obsolescence treatments that allow the CCSMs to perform operationally. Lessons learned from the Collins program will be studied carefully by SEA1000.”
The reasons for the slow pace of Collins improvements are complex and there are as many opinions as there are people qualified to give them. One important factor that seems to be frequently overlooked was the decision taken covertly in 1999 to get rid of the Swedish designer Kockums – owned by Celsius - as a shareholder in ASC. At that time Celsius (for whom the author also worked) owned 49% of ASC and as a consequence of events in Europe sought to transfer that shareholding to Germany’s HDW – a world leader in the design and construction of conventional submarines. In a series of nefarious maneuvers, the Government of the day – aided and abetted by Defence – had formed a view that these annoying Europeans needed to be kicked out of ASC and that the RAN and the DMO – supported by their friends in the USN – would be capable of fixing everything. This has not proven to be the case.
It is a sad reflection on the blinkered debate that often takes place regarding Australian submarines that John Coles in his impressive review of the Collins program was expressly forbidden from examining the issue of ASC’s shareholding.


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