Australia’s Future Submarines: The World’s Best Non-Nuclear Subs?

The Buzz

There has been considerable public debate about Australia’s future submarine program with much of the focus being centered on whether submarines should be produced locally or procured offshore. But surprisingly little of the debate has touched on the imperative to avoid a capability gap once the Collins-class submarines begin to be retired from service in the latter half of the next decade, nor on how Australia might best utilize existing sovereign submarine capabilities to achieve that.

Given the unique nature of the Australian requirement, it seems highly unlikely the solution for Australia’s future submarine would be either an “off-the-shelf” purchase from an offshore supplier or an onshore design-and-build activity. Notwithstanding the fact that Australia doesn’t have the design capabilities to go it alone on the future submarine program, any existing design would need to be customized with a US combat system and weapons while an appropriate indigenous design would obviously have significant cost, risk and time implications. Instead, the optimum acquisition strategy for Australia’s future submarine program is likely to fall somewhere between those two approaches as part of a “hybrid” design-and-build process.

While it’s clear that Australia cannot, and should not, undertake the enormous venture of the future submarine on its own, there are many reasons why a collaborative approach, encompassing Australia’s sovereign capabilities in submarines and the sovereign capabilities of a partner nation with experience, capability and capacity in large conventional submarines, would be sensible, practical and feasible.

Such an approach would draw upon the submarine design capabilities of an international partner; a US combat system and weapons (based upon ‘spiral development’ of the Collins class combat system); Australian industry’s existing naval integration capabilities; and the submarine sustainment capability resident in-country. It would also facilitate the inclusion of leading-edge international and Australian technologies, build on Australia’s sovereign submarine capabilities, and provide considerable work for Australian industry. Overall, it would result in the lowest cost/risk approach to the provision and sustainment of a new submarine capability for Australia.

From a capability perspective such a collaborative approach would facilitate the timely provision of an appropriate future submarine capability for Australia on a schedule that would militate against a capability gap once the Collins-class submarines begin to be retired from service in the latter half of the next decade.

That said, the Government doesn’t have the luxury of time in their decision-making process. It’s clear that to avoid a capability gap, Australia should confirm its acquisition strategy and move as soon as practicable to establish a long-term collaborative partnership for the design and build of the future submarine. Raytheon Australia has now released its own paper, which confirms that if the first future submarine is to be in the water by 2026, an acquisition strategy needs to be settled now.

From a defense industry perspective, such a collaborative approach would provide many new, long-term Australian jobs. That’s a view that has been articulated by ASPI, argued by Government and confirmed by our own analysis.

To be clear, the likely roles for Australians under a collaborative design-and-build model would, at a minimum, include: mission system design—working closely with an offshore designer; mission system integration; hull consolidation; test and activation; and the substantial task of sustaining the submarine throughout its approximately 30-year operational life. Potential also exists for a level of in-country platform assembly. Such a collaborative approach would also require a substantial Australian supply chain.

Through a collaborative approach with an international partner, Australia has the potential to acquire the most capable conventional submarine in the world, optimized for its needs while delivering maximum value for money for the taxpayer. That means Australian industry has every reason to welcome the opportunities presented by the SEA1000 future submarine program.

This article first appeared in ASPI's The Strategist here

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAustralia

A Sanity Check from London on Iran

Paul Pillar

Those who want to maintain endless tension and animosity between the United States and Iran, and who thus have been endeavoring to kill any diplomatic agreement between the two countries, are racing ahead with their latest project and will be very busy during the week ahead. That project, the AIPAC-promoted Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill, will be the subject of a Senate banking committee hearing, with only anti-agreement witnesses so far announced, on Tuesday, to be followed by the committee's mark-up of the bill on Thursday.

Promoters of the bill are racing to beat two things. One, and worst from the promoters' point of view, would be completion of the international negotiations (which also are due to resume in plenary session this coming week) to limit Iran's nuclear program and announcement of an agreement. Even before any agreement is reached, those pushing the bill also have to worry about losing the support of those who may have originally believed the cover story that the legislation is intended to strengthen the hand of U.S. negotiators but who come to realize that the legislation is instead about spoiling the negotiations and killing a deal. Key among this group are Senate Democrats, including some who in the last Congress signed on as co-sponsors of an earlier version of the Kirk-Menendez bill.

Those in this group, and anyone else who might genuinely but mistakenly believe that passage of this bill would aid negotiations, would do well to pay close attention to the comments on this subject from British Prime Minister David Cameron, in a joint press conference with President Obama at the White House on Friday. “On Iran,” said Cameron, “we remain absolutely committed to ensuring that Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon. The best way to achieve that now is to create the space for negotiations to succeed. We should not impose further sanctions now; that would be counterproductive and it could put at risk the valuable international unity that has been so crucial to our approach.”

The prime minister further commented on how those who had predicted that the sky would fall with the reaching 14 months ago of a preliminary agreement—which already has placed the most important restrictions on Iran's nuclear program to ensure that it stays peaceful—have been proven wrong. “To those who said,” stated Cameron, that “if you do an interim deal, if you even start discussing with the Iranians any of these things, the sanctions will fall apart, the pressure will dissipate, no one will be able to stick at it—that has demonstrably been shown not to be true.”

Some background to these remarks from the British leader are useful to keep in mind. The United Kingdom is a full participant in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, as part of the P5+1 (or EU3+3, as they prefer to say on the other side of the Atlantic). It is not an interloper in someone else's diplomatic business, and British diplomats and leaders have at least as much basis as anyone else for knowing what is working and what is not in the negotiations.

Britain also is a country that, like the United States, has historically had some really bad relations with Iran. In Britain's case this experience dates back to a British and Soviet invasion of Iran during World War II, beginning an occupation that extended until almost a year after the end of the war.

Today, the United Kingdom—unlike certain other countries that would like to influence the fate of the nuclear negotiations—has no significant interests in the Middle East that are discernibly at odds with those of the United States. And the comments on Friday came not from some soft post-conflict European liberal, but instead from the leader of the Conservative Party in the country that is still in many respects America's most important ally.

There are two major takeaways from Cameron's comments. One is to provide further confirmation that the myth that something like the sanctions bill before the Senate would facilitate negotiations and hasten an agreement is exactly that: a myth. When people actually doing the negotiating say something would weaken rather than strengthen their negotiating hand, that's a good indication that it indeed would not strengthen their hand.

Actually it should not even be necessary to get independent confirmation of this from someone like Cameron. Even if one were to assume the very worst about Barack Obama's objectives—such as that he were willing to give up the store solely to claim a foreign policy achievement or to burnish his legacy—there would be no conceivable reason for him to oppose any measure that really did strengthen his bargaining hand rather than weaken it.

The other takeaway to be had from the comments of an allied leader concerns the likely fallout if the deal-killers succeed in their effort through something like the sanctions bill. The most direct consequence would involve the responses of Iran. In the best, or least bad, case it would mean greater Iranian reluctance to make concessions because Iranian confidence in Washington's ability and willingness to live up to its end of a deal would be shaken even more than it already is. In a worse case it would mean an Iranian conclusion that the Congressional action is so counter to the spirit if not the letter of the interim agreement that the only alternative is to leave the negotiating table and go home.

But the further consequences concern the responses of the rest of the international community. Cameron indirectly reminded us of that by saying that he was commenting as “someone who played quite, I think, a strong role in getting Europe to sign up to the very tough sanctions, including oil sanctions, in the first place.” The interim agreement did not cause the beloved sanctions regime to unravel. But if the U.S. Congress wanders so far away from an international consensus and off into right field that it is seen as the main impediment to an agreement, unraveling is likely to begin.

Good, reliable allies have several uses, and not just in providing more warplanes to fight someplace. Helping to protect ourselves from our own solipsistic tendencies is another thing they can do for us.       

TopicsIran United Kingdom RegionsMiddle East

No, China Can NOT Shoot Down 90% of Hypersonic Missiles

The Buzz

A number of media outlets have reported in recent days that China has deployed a new missile defense system on many of its ships that has a 90 percent success rate against hypersonic missiles. The same reports also unwittingly highlight that this assertion is false.

All the reports appear to originate from a story the Taiwan-based Want China Times carried last month. Citing a report in its “Chinese-language sister paper Want Daily,” which itself cited a story by an unnamed Russian media outlet, Want China Times reported last month that “that China's latest indigenous Type 1130 close-in weapon system can fire 10,000 rounds per minute and destroy 90% of hypersonic missiles traveling at a speed four times the speed of sound.”

The Want China Times report has been picked up by numerous news outlets since— either directly or indirectly. For example, citing the Want China Times article, International Business Times reported last month that “China has developed a new close-in weapon system” that can “reportedly destroy 90 percent of hypersonic missiles even travelling four times the speed of sound.” Earlier today, ran a story based on the IBT report that was headlined, “Chinese Chain Gun Can Destroy Almost Every Hypersonic Missile.”

Meanwhile, yesterday Gawker media’s design and technology website, Gitzmodo, ran a story headlined “Say Hello to China's New 11-Barrel Hypersonic Missile Killer.” In that article, Gitzmodo staff writer Andrew Tarantola cites the Want China Times article (which he refers to as a Chinese media outlet) in reporting that “China's newly unveiled Type 1130 close-in weapon system can make short work of inbound warheads traveling at four times the speed of sound [emphasis in the original].” Later in the piece he reports that the Type 1130 is “quite accurate, notching 90 percent accuracy against hypersonic threats,” before concluding, ominously, that “Combined with the PLA's new WU-14 hypersonic glide vehicle, naval battles may soon be over in the blink of an eye.”

There are a number of issues with all this. The first, and least egregious, is that the Type 1130 CIWS system is not particularly new. In fact, it was first noted by Western defense analysts as far back as May 2011, albeit at the time it was still in development and referred to as the Type 1030. However, by the time China’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, began sea trials the following year, the gun-based CIWS was being called by its current name (noted, the Type 1130 is also called the H/PJ-14). Thus, at the very least, the Type 1130 is about two and a half years old.

Far more importantly, however, by these reports own admission, the Type 1130 CIWS can’t shoot down hypersonic missiles. As noted above, these reports claim that the Type 1130 CIWS can target missiles traveling at up to four times the speed of sound, or Mach 4. As impressive as these reports make Mach 4 out to be, it doesn’t reach hypersonic levels. To constitute hypersonic, the missile must travel at five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) or greater. NASA further categorizes speeds as hypersonic (between Mach 5 and Mach 10) and high hypersonic (between Mach 10 and Mach 25). This oversight— calling Mach 4 hypersonic— is particularly surprising given that it was featured on science and technology websites Gizmodo and

There are other smaller issues with the claims as well. For example, no country currently deploys hypersonic missiles, raising the question of how the Type 1130 achieved its 90 percent success rate in shooting them down. In fact, it’s unclear where the 90 percent success rate statistic comes from at all, although one possible culprit is a report by a Chinese state-run television station. Needless to say, this is another source that should be taken with a grain of salt.

Finally, while no country currently deploys hypersonic missiles, any that China’s potential adversaries like the United States would deploy in the foreseeable future are almost certainly going to be long range missiles (for example, as part of Prompt Global Strike). Since the Type 1130 CIWS can’t even shoot down medium or long-range subsonic missiles it’s a good bet that it will struggle with hypersonic ones.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikipedia/U.S. Air Force

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

Explained: Why The Oil 'Lesson' of 1986 is Wrong

The Buzz

When I was on the road promoting The Power Surge in 2013, I regularly said two things: First, oil prices could easily plunge for a year or two, though it was far from certain that that would happen. Second, we would not see a repeat of 1986, when the hangover from a price crash lasted for well over a decade before high prices finally returned.

As oil prices have fallen, it’s been pleasantly surprising not to see people trot out the 1986 episode as evidence that we might be in for a decade or more of low oil prices once again. Earlier this week, though, a Bloomberg writer decided to buck the trend with “Oil Collapse of 1986 Shows Rebound Could Be Years Away”. The “Chart of the Day” from that article, reprinted here, pretty much tells the story.

But 2015 isn’t 1986.

Then, massive investment in oil production following the twin oil crises of the 1970s led to a buildup of long-lived oil production capacity. With money spent, that production capacity cost very little to operate. Prices needed to stay low for several years to throttle not only new investment but also production back. Non-OPEC oil production fell every year between 1988 and 1993.

Weak demand also played an important role. While consumption originally rose after 1986 in response to lower prices, between 1989 and 1993, world oil consumption rose by a mere 1.5 million barrels a day, dragged down by the collapse of the Soviet Union and economic weakness more broadly.

The biggest difference today is the supply picture. In 1986, the world faced an overhang of conventional oil production capacity. Today, it is buffeted by a surge in tight oil production. The difference is stark. Once investment in tight oil stops, output from existing wells drops sharply, which is very different from what happens with conventional wells. This can, in principle, balance the market much more quickly than was possible in the 1980s.

Of course investment in U.S. production hasn’t come to a halt. That’s why most analysts still expect supply growth this year. But this is a fundamentally different situation from the mid-1980s. If oil prices stay low for as long as they did after 1986, it will be because tight oil production turns out to be massively scalable at remarkably low prices while remaining profitable, not because sunk investment costs have created oil producing zombies that continue pumping at almost any price. (It could also happen if the world rapidly accelerated the deployment of low-cost alternatives and efficiency.) The aftermath of 1986 was almost inevitable at the time given the investment that had already happened. (This brackets the far-from-inevitable decisions by Saudi Arabia and others to boost their own production after 1986.) What happens over the next decade in oil markets still remains very much to be determined.

This piece first appeared in CFR’s blog Energy, Security and Climate here.

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsOil RegionsUnited States

Why Invading Hell (North Korea) Would be a Big Mistake

The Buzz

The North Korean regime is the closest thing to Nazi Germany still in existence. Toppling it would free an enslaved people. There is perhaps no government on Earth that more deserves to be cast into the dustbin of history.

Yet few military experts have pitched the idea of invading the Hermit Kingdom. That is because opening such a Pandora's box would unleash hell on East Asia. Desperate for survival, Pyongyang would have every incentive to use all its nuclear bombs and other weapons of mass destruction, threatening the lives of millions of innocent people.

So while I tip my hat to Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry for making the case for invasion in The Week, in what amounted to an impassioned plea to rid our planet once and for all of this evil cancer, a dispassionate review of the facts demonstrates why very few have endorsed such an idea. Here is why an invasion would be a great cause for regret:

Please see the rest in The Week here.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsNorth Korea