In December 2020, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) announced that its six domestically-built diesel-electric Collins-class submarines would be upgraded with the new Thales sonar systems. The Australian government would invest $23.7 million on the upgrades, which will reportedly increase the operational effectiveness of the boats in hazardous, shallow waters through the installation of the sovereign Mine and Obstacle Avoidance Sonar and High Frequency Intercept Array systems developed by Thales Australia.
The class of submarines, which was developed from the Type 471 subs designed and built by the Swedish Navy, is named for RAN Vice-Admiral Sir John Augustine Collins, who joined the first intake at the RAN College at the age of fourteen. The lead boat was launched in August 1993 and commissioned in Adelaide in July 1996. Each submarine in the class was named for a distinguished former member of the RAN, including those men who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
The submarines were developed to travel distances while also being able to operate in varying environments from cool southern oceans to warm, shallow tropical waters.
The six boats have been a key element of the Australian Defence Force and are capable of serving as an intelligence-gathering platform in peacetime while being employed as a forceful opponent in wartime. The submarines are based at Fleet Base West in Western Australia.
According to the Submarine Institute of Australia, the Collins-class was one of the first submarines to be completely designed by computers. The boats feature a high-performance hull form, highly automated controls, low indiscretion rates, high shock resistance, optimal noise suppression and an efficient weapons handling and discharge system.
The boats are powered by three Hedemora/Garden Island Type V18B/14 diesel engines, three Jeumont Schneider 1,400kW 440V DC generators, and one MacTaggart Scott DM 43006 hydraulic motor for emergency propulsion. Submerged boats can move silently on electric power supplied by banks of specially-developed lead-acid batteries, which can be charged by three onboard diesel generator sets. The Collins-class boats can travel at speeds greater than twenty knots submerged and ten knots surfaced.
At the time of the commissioning of the lead boat, the class consisted of the largest conventionally powered submarines in the world. The single-hulled boats are seventy-eight meters long (255 feet) and have a beam of 7.8 meters (twenty-six feet). The submarines, which have two decks, displace 3,000 tons. While the maximum depth is classified, it has been reported that the diving depth is in excess of 180 meters (590 feet). Each carries a crew of forty-two, including six officers and thirty-six submarines.
The boats are well armed and fitted with six twenty-one-inch (530 millimeters) torpedo tubes, and the submarines can carry a total of twenty-two torpedoes including Mark 48 Mod 7 CBASS torpedoes and UGM-84C Sub-Harpoon anti-ship missiles; or forty-four mines in place of the torpedoes. The submarines are also equipped with a variety of sophisticated countermeasures, which can provide automatic detection, direction finding and identification of radar signals, as well as decoy methods.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.