Home' Ausmarine : Mar Apr 2017 Contents RE: Shortsighted decision to
close naval architecture school
From: Trevor Rabey
Thank you for going into print to express
your view about the proposal to close the NA
course at UNSW. I read your letter to the AFR
and the article in Ausmarine.
I fear that this is not a proposal but a
done deal and it is all over bar the shouting.
I am a 1987 graduate of the NA degree at
UNSW, and I am absolutely appalled and
furious that the course is to be shut down.
Your article in Ausmarine seems to be
addressed to the “UNSW Authorities” and
“UNSW Council”, whoever that is.
Whomever, someone should have to
justify this monumentally stupid decision to
dismantle one of the few rigorous elements
of university education that we have left.
Their jobs are to improve and reinforce
the university, not dismantle what is a
priceless educational asset that rightly
belongs to every citizen of this country.
Sure, the course has some flaws, and the
numbers are low and have been allowed to
dwindle when there should have been more
effort to get more people into it.
But it was a tough course and taught by
dedicated and, well, brilliant people like
Also, I was lucky to be in the same class
with some pretty smart guys, including
Glenn Williams (Wavemaster) and Chris
Norman (Austal, nephew of John Rothwell)
From: Kent Stewart
Our government signed the submarine
design contract with French company DCNS
a few months ago, with a minimum amount
of fanfare. Now I thought I was the only one
questioning the wisdom of committing fifty
billion taxpayers’ dollars (look at that closely:
that’s $50 with nine zeroes after it,
$50,000,000,000) to build twelve hybrid
submarines. The design is a tricked up
nuclear sub converted back to (wait for it)
diesel electric. This is World War I
technology, 100 years out of date.
Dick Smith and a couple of other
conce rned people, John Singleton among
them, took out a full-page advert in the
Australian saying we’ve been hoodwinked. Is
this a done deal or does the government
have an escape clause to get out of this
foolhardy contract to build antique
submarine technology for the 21st Century?
It’s almost inconceivable that our
government has again committed to a totally
untried design – a modification of a nuclear
submarine (the Shortfin Barracuda which has
yet to enter service in France) complete with
all the problems they incurred with the
Collins-class. In fact, this hybrid (that is, a
conversion of a nuclear submarine back to a
100-year-old diesel electric system) mirrors
the Collins-class in so many ways. The only
difference is the size. These new submarines
are monsters. Ninety-seven metres long,
4,500 tonnes surface displacement and a 60-
person crew. Physically almost half a big
again as the Collins.
Given that the navy is struggling to man
even two Collins boats the question arises as
to where they are going to get experienced
submariners in 2030 to participate in this
folly. Dick Smith and his mates are rightly
concerned about this decision. Like many
naval contracts, it has truckloads of political
implications, not least of which is the fact
that by the time these antiques come into
service the decision makers will be long gone.
But their legacy will remain until the end of
the 21st Century.
If, in fact, we still need submarines in the
21st Century they would have to be nuclear.
The government has trotted out the same old
excuse for non-nuclear as was used with the
Collins Class – “we don’t have a nuclear
industry to support them”, but more
importantly, they say, “public opinion is
against it”. Well, is it? Has the public even
been consulted on this or is it the
gover nment again pandering to the vocal
green minority. As for not having a nuclear
industry to support it, it could well be argued
that we don’t have a diesel engine industry,
electric power generation industry or storage
battery industry to support the new subs
(every piece of equipment for these subs will
have to be imported from overseas). So much
spin it makes me giddy.
The fact that South Australia will struggle
without this project is a given. Car
manufacturing is gone and the Whyalla
steelworks is already on shaky legs. One really
questions the claim that the submarine
contract will generate 2,800 jobs. This is
effectively Australian taxpayers paying
Australian workers to produce a government
owned asset. Have we actually produced
anything that reduces Australia’s trade
deficit? It’s creating jobs for the jobs’ sake
(and for votes of course)
The other thing that is questionable about
this project is the number of boats needed.
We have six Collins-class now and, at best,
we’ve had no more than four fully functional
at any one time. Now they are proposing
twelve submarines on a rotating roster of four
on station, four in readiness and four in refit.
Does this sound extravagant to anyone?
Effectively we still only have four submarines
in service. The other eight are “in-waiting”.
With assets of this value we should question
what function the eight idle boats are
fulfilling (other than berth space alongside).
One thing that is terribly pertinent is
that diesel electric subs have to come to
the surface. Nuclears don’t. In fact, the
diesel electric subs range is limited by its
fuel capacity whereas nuclear submarines
have infinite range (they virtually never
have to refuel).
Any foreign power with half decent
defence satellites wouldn’t have any problem
tracking or locating our working submarine
fleet wherever they are in the world. They
will watch them return to port for fuel, wait
for them to surface and charge their batteries
and watch them leave port after
And speed is another factor. These new
submarines have submerged and surface
speeds which are slow by any modern warfare
standards. So, tracking and predicting
positions won’t be that difficult given current
electronic surveillance and computer
modelling techniques. I truly fail to see any
justification for this project to proceed either
from a technical and defence basis or from an
economic (value for money) basis.
It’s fine bagging an idea. So, what is the
alternative? How about unmanned
Think about it. High speed, fully self-
contained, nuclear powered submarines just
big enough to carry the weapons systems,
propulsion and detection systems that the
most modern submarines carry, all controlled
from the safety of a remote-control console
ashore. Almost like a subsea drone. Is this
hypothetical dreaming or a real possibility?
Autonomous vessels are already here.
Lloyds Register and Det Norske Veritas are
already drafting rules for autonomous ships
and industry heavyweights like Rolls Royce
and Kongsberg are heavily committed to
building them so why not extend this
concept below the sea surface. There is
already technology available in Australia that
can conduct sophisticated subsea
communications. If a submarine’s subsea
control system is married to defence satellites,
it would virtually have an unlimited area of
operations and could stay submerged
These craft would be necessarily much
smaller than a conventional sub as they don’t
have to accommodate huge crews, diesel
engine plants, batteries or air purification
systems (something smaller than a Boeing
777-200 fuselage would prove almost
impossible to locate). And as a consequence,
the reduced size of the submarines means the
hulls can be hydrodynamically designed for
ultra-high submerged speeds. Unmanned
accommodation at atmospheric pressure for
crews so there would be no pressure
differential on the hulls. As a consequence,
they can be designed for much greater depths
making detection even more difficult.
In fact, I’m surprised that bigger naval
nations haven’t explored this concept
already. I know that as far back as the early
eighties the US was dabbling in unmanned
subsea surveillance craft so I suspect that this
work would have progressed perhaps without
advertising the fact. Certainly small “suitcase”
type nuclear power plants could be employed
to propel them and from a safety aspect the
submarine hulls become their own
containment system in the event of a fault.
Does this idea have merit? I think so but
I very much doubt that Australia has the
political ticker to have a go. Please pro ve
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