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Australasian Nuclear Submarine Program
Beginning in the 1970s, a debate had begun to emerge in Australasian naval circles in regard to the future submarine designs and roles. Both Australia and Westralia had been operating diesel-electric submarines for the past decade and a half, and whilst these SSKs were considered highly effective in the roles assigned them, especially in littoral ISR, the limitations of conventional power were becoming obvious. Whilst Australia's Oberon's did possess an impressive range, most of it was on the surface, and Westralia's new Type 209s weren't much better. Given that range requirements were possibly the most important for both nations, both independently began to investigate the possibility of utilising nuclear power in a future class of submarine.
As research and concepts began to overlap between the two countries, a decision was soon reached to jointly pursue the creation of an Australasian Nuclear Submarine Force, with Australia and Westralia colloborating on introducing the necessary infrastructure, design and manufacture industries for the new force. Australia would spearhead the effort into creating a sustainable nuclear industry to support the creation of the submarines, whilst Westralia would handle the program from the naval design aspect. It was agreed that the vessels would be designed in Westralia (with international assistance from France and the UK) and significant components produced there, whilst final manufacture would occur in Australia. This was subject to change with the differing needs of either countries wider economic desires and requirements, however the overall program would remain a joint effort of roughly equal input. Whilst this suggested a single class of ships for both countries, this wouldn't necessarily be the case.
Despite a decision being reached in the early 1980s to acquire nuclear submarines as part of joint effort, it was expected to take roughly 30 years before any SSN actually came into service, given the need to setting up an entire nuclear industry from scratch and allowing it to mature to the point that it was a considered safe enough, cost effective enough and reliable enough to be turned to the manufacture of submarines. For Australia, this presented a slight problem, as they would require an interim class of submarines in the near future to replace the rapidly aging Oberon's. This became the Collins-class SSG, which started to enter service in the 1990s. With Australia focused on refining the flawed design they had just entered into service, the burden of introducing into service the new class of SSN fell to Westralia, with Australia estimated to follow more than a decade after.
Whilst rigorous design exercises had been undertaken for the majority of the 1980s and early 1990s, the Westralian designers only began to actually work on the new SSN design in the mid-90s, under the marketing name 'Sawfish'. By 2000, work on the Westralian variant of the design was nearing completion, and this was closely followed by the official placement of four orders, with the new subs to be named the Spectre
class. Construction began in 2005, with an estimated completion date of the first submarine in 2010. However, significant delays bugged the project, and it rapidly became the most expensive defence program Westralia had participated in. It was not until 2011 that the first submarine was launched, and another 3 years until it was commissioned. However, it was immediately apparent that this new class of submarines was a game changer for the RWN, and wider Asia-Pacific region, despite some typical niggling issues associated with entering a new class into service.
The submarines were a complete step-change over the old and worn out Type 209s. The new sonar, dubbed 'Kookaburra' and built by Thales, drawing from the RN's Type 2076 in their Astute-class, was an unprecedented increase in performance over the old sets in the Type 209. Furthermore, heavy automation meant that, despite being larger and more complex than the prior class of SSK, it did not require a drastic increase in submarine trained personnel, with the class actually requiring roughly the same crew as the smaller Collins-class SSG. A fully digital command and control system helped enable this, but also allowed new methods and manners of utilising information and intelligence, making the submarines highly situation-aware and extremely lethal. Armament was more conventional, but still very effective, with a mix of Mk 48 and Kingfisher missiles allowing the class to ably deal with submerged and surface targets, including on land.
SPECTRE CLASS SSN
Displacement: 4700-5300 t
Speed: 30+ kts, submerged
Range: unlimited, 90 days supplies
Sonar: Thales 'Kookaburra', derived from Thales MCA and Type 2076
Armament: 30 x Mk48 ADCAP Mod 7 (CBASS), Sub-Kingfisher mixed
Whilst the RWN and RAN were collaborating on the submarine design, they did not expect to purchase the exact same design, given slightly different operational requirements. However, an entirely clean-sheet design for the RAN was deemed too expensive for the bi-national partnership, meaning that the Australian submarines would be an evolution of the 'Sawfish' design, the variation being dubbed 'Swordfish'. The subs were to incorporate design improvements suggested from the RWN's operation of the Spectre
class, along with those needed to fit Australia's specific needs. The chief difference came in an extended hull, from the need to be compatible with a Dry Deck Shelter in support of special forces operations, something seen as less important for the Westralian variant (though the provision to utilise one was technically present, the shorter hull made the Spectre
class less suitable). Furthermore, the sail was redesigned to improve hydrodynamic flow, and the bow received a minor re-profile in shape. Finally, an updated sonar suite, dubbed 'Kookaburra 2', was to be installed. Construction started in 2018, with the first enter service in 2025 following the planned retirement of the first Collins class submarine. Twelve vessels in all are to be constructed, forming the Attack
class. Some of the changes made to the design are being considered to be implemented by the RWN for their submarines.
ATTACK CLASS SSN
Displacement: 5000-5600 t
Speed: 28+ kts
Range: Unlimited, 90 days supplies
Sonar: Thales 'Kookaburra 2'
Armament: 30 x Mk48 ADCAP (CBASS), Sub-Kingfisher