Saturday, 28 May 2016

**** Thy Neighbour, Kiss Thy Submarines Goodbye!

Every Country Needs Submarines

Well not quite, there are always caveats. Not perhaps if you are Andorra, Mongolia, Nepal or Republique Centrafrique, in which case you would not even have the need for a navy. Other than that, as long as the country has a maritime border, having a fleet of submarines is probably on the wish list of every naval chief.

The submarine is unique in its ability to dive to the depths of the oceans and remain largely hidden from friend and foe for days, weeks or months until it is ready to strike. And when that moment came, it could than choose to strike at the enemy where and when it was least expected, thus increasing its chances of a successful operation.

Their deterrent value is such that they are probably the only way a smaller navy could hold its ground and stand up to the might of a much bigger one. After all, you can't fight what you can't detect! Having submarines would also force your opponent to channel lots of resources into anti-submarine warfare ( ASW ), meaning time, money, personnel, surface and sub-surface combatants, perhaps even aerial assets have to be diverted from other tasks to conduct ASW operations.

In addition, the old adage that the best platform to hunt for a submarine is another submarine probably still holds true today. So if your arch enemy owned submarines, you would probably like to have the same capabilities as well, fiscal and other circumstances allowing.

So every maritime nation needs submarines but some need it more than others. But none in more dire need than the Philippines which is embroiled in a long standing maritime territorial dispute with China. In fact outgoing Filipino President Benigno Aquino III openly indicated in late March 2016 that his country is contemplating having a fleet of submarines. Just how that can be achieved is a matter of debate.

Sweden's future submarine the A26 breaking waves. Image : SAAB-Kockums

South China Sea or West Philippine Sea? 

The Philippines and China have long had overlapping claims on island, outcrops and sea territories in the Spratly Islands, South China Sea. The international community largely views the South China Sea as the high seas open to all for navigation but China thought otherwise. With their ambiguous nine-dash-line map China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its own backyard, ignoring overlapping claims from other smaller countries like Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam and Taiwan.

Confrontation between the navies and coastguards of both countries are common but the outcome is usually non-fatal as the less capable Filipino forces back down or withdraw. But Filipino fishermen have been denied fishing rights by the Chinese Coastguard vessels within the Philippine's 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, and men and vessels are frequently detained for infringing those territories. The situation is so bad that the Philippines had asked the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague to invalidate China's claims in Jul 2015. The court ruled that it had jurisdiction over the matter in Oct 2015 and agreed to take up seven out of fifteen submissions by the Philippines, some of which focus on whether Scarborough Shoals and Mischief Reef in the Spratlys are considered islands or outcrops. The hearing of the case, which China boycotted, was completed in Nov 2015 and the tribunal is due to release its report anytime now.

China has all this while resisted arbitration with international legal bodies like the International Court of Justice ( ICJ ) as it believed the proceedings and judges could be biased against it, instead it has been advocating for bilateral negotiations with the countries affected.

Presumably to make its legitimate claim on the Spratly Islands based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ( UNCLOS III ) look even more legitimate, the Philippines have began referring to the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea. You may not find it on your nautical charts or atlas but those printed or published by Manila certainly bear this surreptitious change.

The New Sick Man Of Asia

This derogatory label in its original form " Sick Man of East Asia " ( in Chinese 东亚病夫 dong ya bing fu ) was used to refer to Imperial China in the late 19th and early 20th century where half the population was emaciated from opium abuse and the authorities were too weak to resist occupation by foreign powers. Wars were fought and lost and as a consequence and concessions had to be dished out to the victor. Of course this sick man had long since been put on anabolic steroids and is currently a super power and the biggest bully in Asia.

On the other hand, the Philippines which once used to be the second most prosperous country in Asia ( after Japan ) in the years after World War II, saw its fortunes change for the worse when endemic and systemic corruption by its leadership effectively emptied its coffers and bankrupted the nation. Specifically, the Marcos family and their cronies who over two decades of dictatorship had enriched themselves to the tune of USD 10 billion or more. Things hardly improved even after the People Power Revolution which ousted Marcos in 1986 as corrupt practices are deeply entrenched. As a result the whole country suffered and the Philippines Armed Forces was not spared either. Years of underfunding and neglect had seriously undermined its ability to safeguard the interest and sovereignty of the Philippines.

Its equipment are not only old but also obsolete, consisting of largely hand-me-downs by the good will of friendly nations. Foreign military aid from the United States is an important source of sustenance. Therefore it is not surprising that the Philippines is considered the new Sick Man of Asia, which of course Aquino would vehemently oppose. To be fair, the economy of the Philippines did improve under his watch over the past six years, perhaps so much that the country now could begin to procure new equipment, like the KAI-Lockheed Martin FA-50 Golden Eagle fighter / light attack aircraft of which a dozen had been ordered. But these are no where near what the Philippines might actually require in terms of number or type, and Aquino will be stepping down this year, after his single term of six years come to an end.

You Call That A Frigate?

So what kind of shape is the Philippine Armed Forces in? How bad is bad? Compared to China, where does the Philippine military stand? To have an idea of the huge disparity between the military forces of the two countries, we just have to look at the Philippine Navy ( PN ) and the People's Liberation Army Navy ( PLAN ) or Chinese Navy.

The South Seas Fleet of the Chinese Navy alone is made up of 11 guided missile destroyers ( DDG ), 21 guided missile frigates ( FFG ), 10 missile corvettes, 9 modern attack submarines ( SSK ), another 8 not so new SSK, 4 nuclear ballistic missile submarines ( SSBN ), 6 nuclear fast attack submarines ( SSN ) and numerous landing crafts and auxiliary / support vessels. They are supported by land based combat aircrafts of the fleet air arm which includes the H-6 Badger bomber, J-11 Flanker, JH-7 Flounder and J-8 Finback. We have not even mentioned about the East Sea and the North Sea Fleets yet.

In contrast, the entire Philippine Navy can only muster 3 frigates, 10 corvettes and 36 patrol crafts, 11 amphibious landing ships, some support vessels and no submarines at all. None of these surface combatants are armed with missiles. Of the 3 frigates, 1 was an ex-USN destroyer escort which saw action in WWII, was decommissioned after the war and transferred to the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force in the fifties, laid up in the seventies and sold to the Philippines as excess defense article in 1978 ( assumingly at rock bottom prices for almost next to nothing ). The other 2 frigates are ex-US Coast Guard Hamilton-class high endurance cutters that had been retired from service in 2011. Most of the corvettes are actually old minesweepers and patrol crafts with some dating back to WWII.

The BRP Rajah Humabon PF-11 is probably the oldest frigate in active service.
Commissioned as a destroyer escort in the USN in 1943, it was transferred to the
JMSDF in 1955 and commissioned as the JDS Hatsuhi before it was
returned to the USN in 1975 and sold as excess defense article to the Philippines in 1978.
Seen here during Exercise Balikatan 2010 in the South China Sea. USN Photo.

The BRP Gregorio del Pilar ( PF-15 ) and Coast Guard vessel Edsa (SARV 002 )
during CARAT Philippines 2013.
PF-15 is a coast guard high endurance cutter disguised as a frigate. Without a CIWS,
it won't have survived the first salvos of inbound vampires from the PLAN. Wikicommons

From the revelations above it is not difficult to understand the rationale behind the Philippine's desire to acquire submarines, the great equalizer, but what can it afford? If it doesn't even have the money to buy proper frigates and corvettes which are generally much cheaper, how can it aspire to own submarines?

The GDP of the Philippines had enjoyed healthy growth in the past 5 or 6 years under the economy friendly policies of Aquino. It is estimated to hit almost USD 300 billion in 2016. The defense budget for 2016 however is only USD 3.8 billion, barely 1.3% of the GDP. Yet it already represented a 50% increase year on year, and the 2015 budget was itself a 25% increase over the previous year's. Such massive increases are only possible if one started from an ultra-low baseline. In 2014, the defense spending actually suffered from a reduction due to funds being diverted for disaster relief after the Philippines was struck by the super typhoon Haiyan. This highlights another problem that developing nations frequently face, that military spending is not given a high priority and is contingent on funds not being taken away for other projects deemed more urgent, or worse, being siphoned away by some corrupt politician.

For comparison, NATO member countries are obliged to allocate at least 2% of their GDP as defense expenditure, though the truth is that most fall short of that targeted level of spending. The United States spends about 4% of its GDP on its military, China 2.1%, Vietnam 2.2%, Malaysia 1.5% and Singapore 3.3%.

To answer the question of what submarine the Philippines might be able to afford, we have to examine the cost of some of the recent submarine deals.

Recent Submarine Transactions

Unless you are fortunate or unfortunate enough to be Israel, where its submarine acquisition costs are hugely subsidized by Germany as an atonement for crimes committed against the Jewish community during WWII, you will be on your own when shopping for submarines. Here are the various submarine sales and offers that occurred in the past decade or so in USD :

Scorpene-class for Malaysia in 2002 2 ( + 1 Agosta 70B ) for $972 million ( Unit cost $486m )
Scorpene-class for India ordered in 2005 6 ( last 2 with AIP ) for $3 billion ( Unit cost $500m )
Project 636M Improved Kilo-class for Vietnam ordered in 2009 6 for $1.8 billion ( Unit cost $300m )
Type 214 for Turkey ordered in 2011 6 for $2.2 billion ( Unit cost $367m )
Type 209 / 1400 for Indonesia in 2011 3 for $1.07 billion ( Unit cost $357m )
Type 218SG for Singapore 2013 2 for estimated $1.1 billion ( Unit cost $550m )
A26 for Sweden in 2015 2 for $945 million ( Unit cost $473m )
Type 039A Yuen-class AIP in 2015 offered to Thailand 3 for $1.1 billion ( Unit cost $335m )
Type 209 for Egypt in 2016 2 for $1.01 billion ( Unit cost $506m )
Soryu-class late model with lithium batteries for Japan in 2016 1 for $580 million
Shortfin Barracuda for Australia 2016 12 for estimated $14.4 billion ( unit cost $1.67b )

As the numbers indicate, the unit cost of a new build modern diesel-electric fast attack submarine or hunter-killer submarine ( SSK ) will not be cheap. It will cost at least US$300 million or more. And you don't just buy one boat. To have a credible submarine force, a country would need a fleet of at least 3 submarines to ensure the availability of one or more boats at any one time. So it would set the prospective buyer back by at least US$1 billion, not including other expenditures like docking and maintenance facilities, submarine tenders and rescue vessels with the necessary equipment including deep submersibles, medical support infrastructure like hyperbaric treatment centres and of course a submarine training school. After that there will also be recurrent operational costs involved.

South Korea's Type 209 derived Chang Bogo- class SSK the ROKS Nae Dyong
at RIMPAC 2012, Hawaii. Photo : USN

Second-Hand Submarines

If new submarines are out of Manila's reach, how about used submarines? The early nineties was the golden era for buyers of used submarines as many NATO countries were retiring their submarines earlier than planned due to the end of the Cold War and the perceived peace and New World Order than came with it. The naval equivalent of the Great German Panzer Sale.

The most extreme case must have been the Royal Navy's 4 Upholder-class SSK, commissioned between 1990 to 1993 and all decommissioned in 1994. The last boat of the class HMS Unicorn's commission lasted less than 16 months! They were all subsequently sold to the Canadian Navy in 1998 for US$750 million and renamed the Victoria-class. Though relatively new, 4 years of being mothballed must have caused significant deterioration to the condition of the submarines and there were still incidents and mishaps involved including a serious fire onboard HMCS Chicoutimi ( ex-HMS Upholder ) that left it crippled during the trans-Atlantic transfer from Faslane in 2004.

Royal Canadian Navy Victoria-class submarine HMCS Windsor ( Ex-HMS Unicorn ) SSK 877
leaving Faslane, Scotland for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Wikipaedia

The Swedish Sjoorman-class and later Vastergotland-class, German Type 206A and Dutch Zwaardvis-class boats were all divested or decommissioned by their owners before the end of their useful service life.  But unfortunately those opportunities have long since dried up.

Of course submarines are being commissioned and decommissioned all the time, but nowadays fleets then to be much smaller and the boats tend to remain in service for a much longer duration. These old hulls will not have much useful lives left in them, not especially if you have to pay to acquire them and then pay again to have them refurbished. For example the project for the replacement of Norway's 6 Type 210 derived Ula-class, commissioned around 1990, has already began but the boats have been slated to remain in service until the year 2025, a total of 35 years! Similarly, the Netherland's 4 Walrus-class SSK commissioned in 1992 has also been targeted for replacement but again will remain in service until 2025.

Regardless, consider South Korea's recent offer of two 20 year old Type 209 Chang Bogo-class SSK to Thailand for $500 million. The unit cost would be $250 million and that is almost the price of a new SSK! It seems that even used boats are not exactly a viable option for Manila either! That leaves the Philippines with the last possible option which it is already so familiar with - the hand-me-down option.

Hand-Me-Down Boats

In order to identify possible sources of hand-me-down submarines, we have to examine which are the countries that are sympathetic to Manila and might have boats to spare. China for sure isn't one, even though it might have loads of surplus submarines but those are mainly obsolete Ming-class boats derived from the Soviet Romeo-class SSK which nobody wants anyway.

The United States of America was and still is the staunchest ally of the Philippines but they have not had a single conventional diesel-electric submarine in service since the last of the Barbel-class ( laid down between 1956 and 1957 ) USS-Blueback was decommissioned in 1990.

The British supplied 3 Peacock-class patrol vessels from the Royal Navy's Hong Kong Squadron to the Philippine Navy in 1997 for a goodwill price of US$20 million and might be somewhat sympathetic to Philippine's cause but they have already sold their last conventional submarines to the Canadians and had gone completely nuclear long ago just like the Americans and the French.

The Australians are hugely concerned about the ever expanding ambition of China in the southern seas and would probably side with the Philippines. They also have a relatively large and not too old fleet of submarine, the Collins-class which are due for retirement beginning around the year 2025. But dates are likely to slip as the construction of the future submarines gets delayed for various reasons. Could they possibly gift a couple of Collins boats to the Philippines? Even if that happened, would anyone actually want to operate the defects plagued Collins-class submarine? I can only say perhaps beggars can't be choosers.

Japan has been a strong supporter of the Philippines and has plans to transfer surplus P-3C Orion maritime patrol planes to the Philippines as more of their new Kawasaki P-1 come online. The Filipinos will also be leasing 5 of Japan's Beechcraft TC-90 King Air advanced trainer aircraft to boost their maritime surveillance capabilities. The Japanese also have a history of decommissioning their submarines relatively early, usually after 18 to 20 years of service which made Japanese submarines theoretically good candidates for refurbishment and a second life in some other less advanced navy. That had never happened in the past because the post war Constitution of Japan forbade any form of arms export, new or used, until current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted the ban. However, in order to counter the might of the Chinese Navy, the Japanese plan to have a total of 22 submarines in active service, 10 of the older Oyashio-class and 12 of the latest Soryu-class ( of which 8 have already been built ), so they have yet to reach this target and do not have spare submarines to offer. Unless of course we consider some of Japan's even older submarines the Harushio-class where 6 have been decommissioned and 1 converted into a training submarine. What's a couple of Harushios in exchange for say a permanent presence or a lifetime of berthing rights in Subic Bay?

Closer to home, within the 10 member ASEAN organization which the Philippines belongs, perhaps Singapore is the only country which is small enough and has operated submarines long enough to possibly have surpluses. Small enough to avoid the perpetual problem of not having enough boats to cover vast tracks of oceans like fellow members Indonesia and Malaysia. Long enough to have witnessed the retirement of earlier generation boats and have them available for sale or as give away. Just last year, the Republic of Singapore Navy ( RSN ) retired two Challenger-class submarines that it had operated since the late nineties. The remaining two Challenger-class boats still in active service will likely be retired after the new Type 218SG submarines are commissioned beginning year 2020. These submarines, first commissioned into the Royal Swedish Navy between 1968 and 1969, will be past fifty years old by then, but they had been extensively modernised and tropicalized before and had been in the good hands of the RSN. They might just be used judiciously for several more years as long as one doesn't make too many fathoms out of them. Afterall Taiwan's WWII era Guppy-class submarines Hai Shih and Hai Pao are still in active service as training boats after more than seventy years. Will Singapore risk incurring the wrath of China by selling or giving the Challenger boats to the Philippines? Common sense tells me it will not, since there exists very strong commercial ties between China and Singapore, but who knows? One can always arrange to have them sold as scrap metal to some third party front company registered in the British Virgin Islands or Panama and then have the boats shipped to the Philippines for stripping and demolition only to have them resurrected and patrolling the West Philippine Sea before Xi Jinping can even let out a startled fart. The world can always learn a thing or two from China.


Taking Goodwill For Granted?

The impending doom that the Philippines is currently facing is the fact that President Benigno Aqino's 6 year term is ending. The steady economical growth enjoyed by the country for the past few years may not necessarily continue at the same pace with the leadership renewal. It all depends on who is at the helm. Unfortunately for the Philippines, the people chose Rodrigo Duterte, the foul mouthed, gun-totting, self-confessed womanizer and ex-mayor of the once lawless Davao City who rose to fame with his zero-tolerance policy against crime. Under his record seven terms as mayor, he claimed to have drastically reduced the crime rate of Davao but was widely alleged to have been associated with vigilante death squads that carried out extra-judicial killings of criminals. He rode on his promise to rid his country of crime and corruption within six months of taking office and eventually finished the presidential election with a landside win of 38.5% of the votes. The amazing thing was he won without ever properly giving an account of how he was to manage the economy.

Rodrigo Duterte - the next dictator of the Philippines? Wikipaedia

During his presidential election campaign, he made so many gaffes and made so many incredulous remarks that offended individuals, organisations and countries alike that Donald Trump's antics would have paled in comparison.

This included a Facebook post in April by his publicist that seemed to suggest the endorsement of his candidacy by Mr Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, a country which is noted for its clean government and relatively low levels of corruption. " Davao Mayor RODRIGO DUTERTE is the only Presidential Candidate that could make Philippines like Singapore. Clean, efficient and disciplined. .... Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ". That was of course swiftly refuted by the Singapore Embassy in Manila. " The Embassy has learned of a FB post mischievously alleging that the Prime Minister of Singapore endorses a presidential candidate for the upcoming presidential election in the Philippines. This is untrue. Singapore does not endorse any candidate." " The choice is for Filipinos alone to make. We wish the Philippines well in its conduct of its elections." Short, sharp and perfectly logical response to Duterte's nonsense. The original post had been taken down, and the Singapore government later said it would seek legal advise on the misleading post. Not only did he not apologise, the Duterte camp even labeled the incident as a " trivial matter " and suggested that Singapore was over reacting.

Facebook page of the Singapore Embassy in Manila

Still on Singapore, at a rally on 30th April, Duterte recalled how he protested the 1995 execution of a Filipino domestic worker Flor Contemplacion by Singapore for committing a double murder, killing a fellow Filipino worker and a 4 year old Singaporean boy. He mentioned the unwillingness of Singapore to budge on the execution order even when a pardon was sort by the then Filipino President Fidel Ramos. He claimed to have told someone at that time " Find me a flag of Singapore. Let's burn it. I told them, **** Singapore. ". He then went on to lead about a thousand Davao City employees to burn the Singapore flag in March 1995. A nation's flag represents its sovereignty and should never be dishonored in anyway by anyone. Burning another country's flag can be considered the greatest diplomatic taboo that should never have been allowed. Such disrespectful antics towards one's neighbor reflects poorly on the standing of the perpetrator can never have a good outcome. Instead of letting such serious incidents in the past be forgotten, this mother***king idiot actually brought it up and wore it on his chest as if it was the Medal of Honor! As usual, his spokesman subsequently kicked into damage control mode and said that his flag burning remarks were made only jokingly. Would you like to have a comedian as your Presidente? Yes Presidente, No Presidente, Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha you are soooo funny Mr. Presidente.

The face of a murderer.
All the Filipino websites that commemorated Flor Contemplacion,
including Migrante International from which the image was taken,
never ever mentioned about why she was sent to the gallows,
that she was convicted of murdering two persons
after a very thorough investigation by the Singapore Police
and a proper trial in the Singapore Courts.
Had a Singaporean committed a similar crime, the
judiciary system would have dished out the same punishment.

He also joked about the rape and murder of an Australian missionary during a hostage crisis by inmates of a Davao detention centre in 1989 which as the mayor he was involved as a civilian official in the negotiating team. " They raped all of the women … there was this Australian lay minister … when they took them out … I saw her face and I thought, Son of a bitch. What a pity… they raped her, they all lined up ... I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first ". His remarks were heavily criticized by both the Australian and the American ambassadors to the Philippines. Amanda Gorely ( Aus ) " Rape and murder should never be joked about or trivialized. Violence against women and girls is unacceptable anytime, anywhere.". Philip Goldberg ( US ) concurred with this " Statements by anyone, anywhere that either degrade women or trivialize issues so serious as rape or murder are not ones that we condone. " Instead of retracting his remarks and apologizing, he told the ambassadors to shut up. " It would do well with the American ambassador and the Australian ambassador to shut their mouths". "You’re not Filipinos. Shut up. Do not interfere because it’s election time".

US and Australian Special Operations Forces (SOF) fast rope out of a
MH-60 Seahawk as part of a helicopter assault training event during
exercise Balikatan 2016 at Puerto Princessa, Philippines.
 The US and Australia are the two staunchest allies of the Philippines. Photo : USN

He even dared the Americans and the Australians, two of the Philippine's closest allies, to sever diplomatic ties with his country once he is elected as president. " If I become the President, go ahead and sever it (diplomatic ties)". Some follow Filipino technocrats even consider Duterte a threat to national security as he had absolutely no insight as to the importance of alliances in his country's foreign dealings. They believed Duterte had undermined Aquino's six years of efforts nurturing ties with America and Australia and might be steering the Philippines into isolationism. As usual, he later blamed the media for asking leading questions that resulted in him being misquoted. " Who am I to sever ties? ". The answer to that question? You are a nobody, just a ***king turd.

His tough talking endeared him to nobody. He seems to have offended almost all the friends and allies of the Philippines with the exception of Mr Shinzo Abe, but I believe it is only a matter of time before this CB Mouth would utter something absurd to absolutely make the Japanese mad.

He was at odds with the religious community and accused the Catholic Church of being hypocritical, of influencing and meddling with politics, criticizing him and yet asking for favours from him. He also accused the priests of secretly fathering children and the bishops of corruption, alleging that they received luxury cars from sponsors and organisations. He threatened to reveal all their misdeeds. He even cursed Pope Francis and called him the son of a whore when he discovered that the traffic jam he encountered was caused by the Pope's visit to Manila, only to quickly apologise saying that he was unhappy with the Manila authorities and not the Pope.

On the maritime territorial dispute with China, he wanted to conduct direct talks with China, something which his predecessor was vehemently opposed to. That could potentially make his country's filings to Permanent Court of Arbitration look silly in view of the new developments. He also indicated that he would forego Philippine's claims on the Spratly Islands if Beijing builds him a high speed rail system like they did in Kenya and I believe he would not have hesitated to sell his own mother to the devil if it benefited him. He said openly that he wanted carry a Philippine flag and ride a jet ski to the Spratly Islands occupied by the Chinese, land, plant the flag and proclaim to the Chinese troops there that the territory belonged to him. Yeah, right. Let's see what a couple of 23mm slugs could do to a puny unarmoured pinoy jet ski and what effects they could have on the human body. Mr Duterte will literally have his mind blown away even before he could make a landing.

The Jet Ski® is a registered trade mark of Kawasaki.
The Jet Ski Ultra 310LX 2016 is depicted. Image : Kawasaki.

Other controversial issues raised by Mr Toodirty included the plans to bury the Philippine's late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Heroes' Cemetery in Manila which would only whitewash all the crimes committed against the state and the people of the Philippines. Already members of the Marcos family had been allowed not only to return to the country from exile but are making a comeback in politics with the wife Imelda elected a congresswoman and the son Ferdinand Marcos Jnr a senator, never mind the $10 billion stolen or the thousands killed or tortured. Such is the forgiving culture of the people of the Philippines, sometimes to the point of absurdity.

You Are On Your Own, Buddy!

That's the scariest phrase to hear when one is already up to the neck waddling in deep shit. Unfortunately, that's exactly the situation for the Philippines, who already lost huge tracks of oceans and numerous islands and outcrops to China, the most recent being Scarborough Shoals in 2012. Instead of mustering all the friends that can possibly lend a hand, the Philippines seems to be doing the opposite by alienating itself from its traditional supporters and actively burning bridges. Beginning from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 that almost completely destroyed Clark Air Base of the US Air Force and Subic Bay where the US Navy had a permanent base, the Filipino government made the strategic mistake of their lives by their failure to continue to allow US Forces to maintain a constant presence in the Philippines.

Naval Air Station Cubi Point ( left ) and Naval Station Subic Bay ( right ) in a
1990 photo. Wikipaedia

The might of the US Pacific Air Force : F-4E and F-4G Phantoms,
C-141 Starlifter and C-130 Hercules at Clark Air Base, 1989. Wikipaedia

The Kiwis were there too! Good old Douglas A-4Ks of the Royal New Zealand Air Force
at Clark Air Base during Ex Cope Thunder 84-7. Wikicommons

The large plinian eruption column of the stratovolcano Pinatubo
seen from Clark Air Base just 14km away on 12th Jun 1991.
 It reached an altitude of 19km. It was the first of a series of eruptions
that would climax on 15th June, sending pyroclastic flows
down the slopes of the volcano. US Geological Survey photo

Ashfall from the 15th Jun 1991 eruption cause the roof of this warehouse
to collapse at Clark Air Base. USAF Photo via Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of Natural History Global Volcanism Program website

Naval Air Station Cubi Point, Subic Bay 15th jun 1991 :
Heavy ashfall cause this World Airways McDonnell Douglas DC-10 to rest on its tail.
USGS photo via Wikipaedia 

Naval Station Subic Bay at Zambales 40km from Pinatubo is not spared
from the destructive ashfall either. Photo taken on 8th Jul 1991. Wikipaedia

Emboldened by the withdrawal of the USAF and USN, the Chinese progressively occupied more and more reefs in the Spratly Islands while the Philippine military could only watch in horror as they were too weak to resist the Chinese moves. In 1999, they were so desperate that the Philippine Navy deliberately grounded a WWII era County-class Landing Ship Tank, the BRP Sierra Madre at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratlys and used the ship as a permanently garrisoned outpost. As of today, the rusting hull is still housing a small contingent of marines who had to receive their resupplies by airdrop of late due to the blockade by the Chinese Coast Guard. At the rate Duterte goes, the Philippines will soon find itself fighting China alone.

The Second Thomas Shoal ( right ) is just 30km east of
Mischief Reef ( upper left ) which is occupied by the Chinese.

A small speck at the northern rim of the reef is where the BRP Sierra Madre is grounded.
It is not too difficult to see the grounded LST in this magnified image.
The dilapidated LT-57 BRP Sierra Madre in its final resting place at Second Thomas Reef.
Her hull had rusted through after years of abandonment with waves lapping inside her cargo
 hold. She will probably never ever sail again.

The BRP Sierra Madre rusting away at Second Thomas Shoal. Photo : Japan Times

Aft view of the Sierra Madre. I wonder if the AA gun still works. Photo : Japan Times

More Foreign Military Aid?

Want Mr Turnbull's old AP-3C Orion maritime patrol planes after he receives his P-8A Poseidons this coming Christmas? More ex-USCG cutters as frigates? Free submarines dropping out of the heavens like Manna? Dream on Duturdee. Not when you keep offending your allies like you did and laugh it off as trivial matters. Why should anybody help the Philippines? Nobody owes the Philippines a living. If the Philippines Armed Forces needs modernization, you jolly well fund the whole venture yourself. After all, who was it that claimed he could wipe off crime and corruption in his country in 6 months? With corruption gone, and the economy doing so well, the coffers should be overflowing right? Now we are talking.

Not that I know what the Singapore government intends to do with the 2 retired Challenger-class boats RSS Challenger and RSS Centurion. If ever they were to be given away, they should go to some other more deserving countries, like Brunei or Taiwan. Both have maritime territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. Both are important defense partners with Singapore, as they regularly host Singapore Armed Forces troops during their overseas military training exercises. Both deserve Singapore's gratitude. However, Brunei is probably rich enough to afford brand new submarines and may not be keen to receive hand outs. They threw away their Nakhoda Ragam corvettes without even commissioning them and then went on to order new ones, remember?

On the other hand, until the day they can successfully build their indigenous submarines, the Taiwanese Navy could very well make use of a couple of well maintained 50 year old submarines. Anything would be considerably safer than their seventy year old Hai Shih and Hai Pao. Heck, Singapore can do anything with the Challenger and the Centurion. Museum boat, mothball for future contingencies, sell them, cannibalize them, sink them or scrap them, anything .... . Just don't give 'em to that Son Of A Bitch Duterte.

Go **** yourself, you worthless piece of turd. And good luck with those jet skis.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Rotting Dutchman of Lumut : Malaysia's Submarines That Never Were

Submarine Hospice?

Many of us have heard of the scandal associated with the Malaysian Scorpene-class submarine purchase, one which involved huge sums of money and resulted in the murder of the Mongolian socialite and interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu . But there was another side story about Malaysia's quest for submarines, one that pre-dated the Scorpene deal, that not so many remembered or even knew about. This is a sad tale of the last days of two distinguished Dutch submarines, HNLMS Zwaardvis and HNLMS Tijgerhaai, brought to a location far from home and left to the elements, and eventually scrapped. It is also story about the demise of the Dutch submarine construction industry and a cautionary tale of how defence procurements should not be mismanaged.

The Zwaardvis and the Tijgerhaai underway during their heyday. Photo via Wikicommons.

The Zwaardvis-class diesel-electric submarine of
the Royal Netherlands Navy. Photo : Wikipaedia

Dutch Submarine Construction

The Dutch were involved in submarine construction activities since 1904 when they started the construction of the submarine Onderzeese Boot 1, based on the designs from the American company Holland Torpedo Boat Co. It was to be a single boat class, eventually sold to the Dutch Navy and commissioned as the HNLMS O1. From such humble beginnings more than a century ago, the submarine building industry gradually matured and gained momentum during the years preceding World War II. The Dutch were even credited for inventing the submarine snorkel which allowed diesel submarines to run their engines to recharge their batteries while remaining submerged to reduce the risk of detection by the enemy. Unfortunately, this technology fell into German hands and saw application in the Kriegsmarine's U-Boats especially towards the final years of the war.

As the Dutch shipyards suffered extensive damage during World War Two, construction of indigenous Dutch designed submarines did not restart until the fifties with the Dolfijn-class SSK of which four boats were produced. The next generation of Dutch submarines were the Zwaardvis-class which were laid down in 1966 and commissioned in 1972. Two were built for the Dutch Navy and another two for the Taiwanese Navy in the mid-eighties. The current and final batch of submarines are the Walrus-class which had been commissioned in the early nineties and are still in active service. After that, the Dutch submarine industry collapsed as the Dutch government did not have sufficient orders for the builders and desperately needed foreign exports orders failed to materialize.

The Zwaardvis-class was to play a crucial part in the unfolding saga of the demise of the Dutch submarine construction industry.

The Zwaardvis-class SSK

The Zwaardvis-class boats are conventional diesel-electric hunter-killer submarines ( SSK ). They were based on the designs of the Barbel-class of the United States Navy with an albacore or tear-drop shaped hull. The Barbel-class was the last of the SSKs built for the USN before it developed into an all-nuclear submarine force. Two boats were built for the Dutch Navy, the Zwaardvis and the Tijgerhaai.

USS Barbel SS-580, ordered in 1955, on her last day of service
24th Oct 1988. USN Photo via Wikicommons

In the Dutch language, Zwaardvis means swordfish and Tijgerhaai means tiger shark. Just like their namesake, the Zwaardvis-class boats are large ocean-going fleet-submarine type vessels displacing some 2408 tons surfaced and 2640 tons submerged, measuring 66.9m long and 8.4m wide. Powered by three diesel engines and an electric motor, these boats have a maximum speed of 13 knots surfaced and 20 knots submerged and an endurance of 10000nm at 9 knots. Maximum diving depth is classified but probably 200m or more. They are armed with 6 x 533mm bow torpedo tubes and carry a total of 20 torpedoes. They have a complement of 67 including 8 officers.

Built at by Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij ( RDM ) in Rotterdam, which used to be one of the largest ship builders in the Netherlands, these submarines were laid down in 1966, launched in 1970 / 1971 and commissioned in 1972. HNLMS Zwaardvis and HNLMS Tijgerhaai were to serve an uneventful career with the Dutch Navy for twenty-two years before being decommissioned in 1994 and 1995 respectively. This relatively early withdrawal from active service is probably a result of the end of the Cold War with budgetary cuts in military spending in many NATO countries. It would also mean that those hulls have some more years to go, though they might require some upgrading before being put back into service.

The Zwaardvis-class cannot be discussed without the mention that in 1982 the Taiwanese Navy, more correctly known as the Republic of China Navy ( ROCN ), placed an order for two boats which were modified variants. They were built by Wilton-Fijenoord it its Schiedam yard. These were launched in 1986 and were delivered to Taiwan in 1987. They are officially known as the Chien Lung-class ( 劍龍 級 ) meaning sword dragon ( not to be confused with the Japanese Soryu-class submarine SS-504 Kenryu which also means sword dragon ). Sometimes also referred to as the Hai Lung-class ( Sea Dragon ), these are still in active service in the ROCN today and by the looks of it, will be for a long time more to come.

After procuring the Hai Lung boats, Taiwan had actually the requirement for another eight submarines. However the Netherlands suffered from a huge diplomatic and trade fallout with China after the sale of the submarines to Taiwan and the follow-on request was denied for fear of angering China again.

SS-793 Hai Lung of the Taiwanese Navy is a modified Zwaardvis-class SSK. Photo : Wikipaedia

Used Boats For Sale

Even before the Zwaardvis and the Tijgerhaai were decommissioned, the Dutch shipbuilding industry was already in serious trouble with over capacity and too few orders. Many went into receivership while others were broken up with profitable divisions being sold off or merged with other shipyards. RDM was no exception. Faced with bankruptcy in 1983, it was heavily restructured with the closure of its off-shore department and the repair business transferred to Wilton-Fijenoord. The remaining naval as well as the heavy tools and machinery division formed a new company RDM Nederlands BV which was government owned. For a short period in the late eighties, the construction of the four Walrus-class submarines for the Dutch Navy helped but trouble brewed again with no other follow-on orders.

By late 1991, the Dutch government divested its interest and sold RDM Nederlands to the Royal Begemann Group controlled by a businessman by the name of van der Nieuwenhuyzen who also did not manage to turn the company profitable. By 1994 the company was downsized and reorganized to RDM Technology BV and RDM Submarine BV and eventually both were taken private by van der Nieuwenhuyzen in 1996.

When the time came for the Zwaardvis boats to retire, the Dutch government tried without success to offer them to Indonesia which was once a Dutch colony but gained independence after the end of World War II. The asking price for the submarine was reportedly USD55million, a steal considering the fact that these were blue water capable designs which had a relatively short service span. By some estimates, the hulls may have another 15 years of usable life in them, perfect for a small navy that needed to start building up a submarine force from scratch. Without any buyers in sight, the submarines were decommissioned and eventually sold to RDM Submarines for an undisclosed sum in 1996.

RDM Submarines had at that time an advanced attack submarine design known as the MORAY - Multi Operational Requirement Affected Yield which was based heavily on the Walrus-class SSK, the Netherland's follow-on class after the Zwaardvis-class. It had a modular design and could be adapted for the different needs of various navies. An air-independent propulsion system could be optionally installed if the customer so wishes. The strategy for RDM Submarines was to bundle the Moray with the two used Zwaardvis boats to small navies who are keen to acquire submarine capabilities. The older boats would be used for training straight away while the new builds were under construction. By the time the advanced Morays were commissioned, the crew would have been absolutely ready for them. The Moray-class submarines were offered to the Indonesians in 1996 but they preferred the German Type 209. They were then offered to Egypt presumably through the US as part of the foreign military aid package but it did not materialize. Portugal was the next on the list that did not select the Moray. It was a good design on paper but the trouble was the Dutch government had no need for it at that time and without an existing functioning build no other navy was prepared to take the risk to order it.

In April 2000 rumours emerged about a possible deal with Malaysia for the two old boats to be used as training submarines. Jane's Defence Weekly subsequently reported that Malaysia is negotiating for a five year lease contract with RDM Submarines for the two Zwaardvis boats. By Oct 2000, the two submarines were loaded onto the heavy dock vessel Smit Explorer and were shipped to Lumut, Malaysia where they were supposed to be refurbished by PSC Naval Dockyard, RDM Submarine's selected partner, and then offered to the Royal Malaysian Navy as training vessels. All this happened before Malaysia had even made any formal agreements with RDM Submarines regarding the two boats but presumably the Dutch company must have been quite confident of clinching the deal to have shipped the submarines all the way to Malaysia. Conversely, RDM could have shipped them to Malaysia to have them refurbished there and to have them available for trials to increase its chances of leasing them or selling them to the Malaysian Navy.

The two submarines arrived at Lumut sometime in mid-December 2000 and were tied up at PSC-Naval's wharf where nothing much was done for a long time. Indeed by 2001 Malaysia had already indicated that they would be buying new submarines and the Dutch boats were not going to be part of the deal. Their presence in Lumut lead some Malaysians to believe that their country had already acquired and operated submarines. Some even swear that they sometimes see only one submarine moored at Lumut implying that one or the other boat must have been active and out at sea. In reality, the two boats never went anywhere and were not upgraded or refurbished. Malaysia never did lease or buy the Zwaardvis submarines, and by 2002 made the decision to acquire a pair of the French Scorpene submarine with an older Agosta 70B thrown in as a training boat. The first Scorpene submarine only arrived in Malaysia in early September 2009.

The Ex-HNLMS Zwaardvis and Tijgerhaai moored at
Lumut Naval Base in Malaysia. Photo : RDM Submarines

RMN's Scorpene-class SSK. Photo : LIMA

Stranded In Lumut   

For the next 3 to 4 years, the Zwaardvis submarines remained stranded in Lumut with their owners still in search of a buyer. But as time passed, the condition of the disused boats could only deteriorate, especially in the harsh tropical environment like Lumut, and the boats became less and less saleable. Without any successful submarine sale, new or used, the viability of RDM Submarines as a company also became more and more tenuous.

By 2005, a PSC-Naval Dockyard spokesperson claimed that the submarines could no longer move under their own power. The Dutch government had also became increasing worried that in-lieu of the maintenance and berthing fees owed to PSC-Naval Dockyard which could accumulate to substantial amounts over a period of 5 years, the submarines might be seized and sold off to unsavory third parties who might then have unauthorized access to sensitive equipment or technology. It demanded that RDM Submarines make arrangements to ship the submarines back to the Netherlands or else to have them scrapped.

When those demands were not met, the Dutch government even took RDM Submarines to court, but it all amounted to nothing as RDM was then in its death throes and was in no financial position to implement anything. In the end, the Dutch government had to pay for the submarines to be scrapped, which probably happened in 2006.

Google Earth Image dating back to 27th Sep 2005 showing
two submarines moored at PSC-Naval Dockyard's wharf at Lumut.

Lumut today : Submarines long gone.
Boustead Naval Yard ( formally PSC Naval Dockyard )
to the west and RMN Lumut Naval Base to the east.

Lumut Naval Base as it appears today. Photo : RMN Tweet

A Sad Way To Die

It was a tragic and wasteful end to the two Zwaardvis submarines as when they were being retired in the mid-nineties, they could still have served useful lives as training boats or even remained operational after a mid-life upgrade. If they had remained in the Netherlands, perhaps they could also have a chance of being preserved as a museum boat, or to be used as a target for SINKEX live firing exercises, or to be sunk as artificial reefs, anything useful apart from just being sold as scrap metal.

After being left rotting at the wharves of PSC-Naval in Lumut for years, the eventual scrapping of the Zwaardvis boats also signaled the end of the submarine construction industry for the Netherlands. Such capability and the skilled work force tied to the industry would be extremely difficult if not impossible to reacquire once lost.

Had the Dutch government defied Chinese pressure and gone ahead to sell Taiwan the additional eight modified Zwaardvis submarines which the ROCN desperately needed, things might be very different today. RDM Submarines might just have stayed in the black long enough to secure other deals to allow the Dutch to maintain its strategic capability in submarine construction, maybe even long enough to participate in the Walrus-class replacement program. However, that was not the case. RDM Submarines was long gone. The Moray-class submarine whose fate was once so closely linked to the Zwaardvis boats would forever remain a paper design and to this day was never ever constructed or sold.

Now should you happen to chance upon a glowing apparition off the seas of Lumut on a dark and stormy night, emerging from the depths and taking to the skies, you'll know it's got to be either the Zwaardvis or the Tijgerhaai, still prowling the oceans as they always did, still conducting their eternal combat patrols .......

Flying Dutchman rendition of SS-581.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Australia Selects Shortfin Barracuda, Hands DCNS A$50 Billion On A Platter

The DCNS Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A SSK. Image : DCNS Australia

SEA1000 Future Submarine Program

Merci! That's the least the French could say. Ouch! That's the pain that would come from parting with A$50 billion, after the initial euphoria is over. And Oh ****! would be the response with the realization of the enormity of the task ahead.

Australia's quest to replace its current fleet of six Collins-class conventional diesel electric attack submarine is officially known as the SEA1000 Future Submarine Program. It aims to provide the Royal Australia Navy with " an affordable, regionally dominant, conventional submarine capability, sustainable into the foreseeable future ", so that it can safeguard its sea lines of communication and its economy which is worth A$1.6 trillion annually.

The Aussies wanted them BIG and they wanted them quick. Twelve boats are needed in total. They have to be constructed locally in Australia and they had to have American combat and weapon systems. As there were no off-the-shelf options that can fulfill Australia's unique operational requirements, they began looking for an international partner to design and build their next generation boats, the details of which can be found here. After a long drawn competitive evaluation process, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced last week that the French Shortfin Barracuda designed by DCNS had been selected, thus ending months of speculation by defense analysts as well as the general public alike.

DCNS Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A

The Shortfin Barracuda is actually a conventionally powered variant of the Barracuda-class nuclear attack submarine ( SSN ), specially customized for Australia. It is brilliantly named after the Australian Barracuda or Shortfin Barracuda whose scientific name is Sphyraena novaehollandiae.

French national ship builder DCNS needs no further introduction. Malaysia's Gowind-class frigates and Scorpene-class SSK, Singapore's Formidable-class stealth frigates, and the Mistral-class BPC so coveted by Mr Putin, were all constructed by this innovative company.

The Barracuda-class submarine currently under construction for the French Navy is France's second generation nuclear attack submarine meant to replace their six Rubis-Amethyste-class SSNs. It displaces 5300 tons submerged and 4765 tons surfaced and measures about 100m in length. Its nuclear reactor provides an unlimited range, requiring refueling and complex overhaul ( RCOH ) only once in ten years. Its endurance is about 70 days, the limiting factor being the amount of food it can carry for its crew. It is extremely stealthy and quiet, featuring pump jet propulsion instead of propellers. It can be armed with a variety of weapons including torpedoes, mines, SM39 block 2 Exocet anti-ship missiles and SCALP Naval land attack cruise missiles. First-in-class FS Suffren is scheduled for launch in 2017 and the six boats cost the French government €9.9billion.

The Shortfin Barracuda debuted as the SMX-Ocean SSK at Euronaval 2014 and quickly evolved into its current form as the world's most advanced conventional submarine customized for Australia's needs. It will be slightly shorter than the Barracuda SSN at 97m and also smaller, displacing some 4500 tons when surfaced and " more than 4000 tons ", probably closer to 5000 tons, submerged. Powered by diesel engines and advanced fuel cell air-independent propulsion system, it can remain underwater for up to 3 weeks and has a range of 18000nm ( 33300km ) at 10 knots and an endurance of 80 days at sea. Maximum diving depth is 350m or deeper and its maximum speed will be 20knots. It will have a complement of 60 officers and ratings, plus it can carry another 20 special forces personnel.

It will have " the most powerful sonar ever produced for a conventional submarine " and the same pump-jet propulsion system and the same enhanced stealth features inherited from its nuclear cousin. Pump-jet technology is said to make propellers obsolete, as they can be a thousand times quieter and achieve much higher speeds before cavitation ( bubbling phenomenon ) occurs. It also allows for high maneuverability with the addition of a steerable nozzle, creating vectored thrust. However, it can be less efficient than propellers at low speeds. Other notable features include an X-rudder like the Japanese Soryu boats where the four blades can twist and turn in different permutations and provides superior maneuverability especially in shallow waters, retractable hydroplanes which reduces drag and noise, non-hull penetrating optronic masts and special hull hatches for easy upgrading in the future.

Its combat system and weapon systems will be American, as the Aussies value interoperability with their closest ally the United States. So we can expect an improved version of the AN/BYG-1 combat system, Mk48 Mod 7 Common Broadband Advanced Sonar System ( CBASS ) heavy torpedoes jointly developed by the US and Australia, UGM-84 submarine launched harpoon missiles, UGM-109E Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles, Mk60 CAPTOR mines, Mk67 submarine launched mobile mines and such. Swimmer delivery hatches, unmanned underwater vehicles ( UUV ) will probably be part of the package as well.

At A$50 billion, it is Australia's single biggest defence procurement to date, though this spending will be spread out over the next thirty years or so. At least two thirds of this money will be allocated for future upgrades, sustainment, operations and in-service support of the submarines which means the initial builds would cost A$20 billion or less.

Here's a video of the Shortfin Barracuda from DCNS.

The Shortfin Barracuda : Australia's Future Submarine. Image : DCNS

The Shortfin Barracuda with tiny hydroplanes extended. Image : DCNS

X-rudders and pump-jet propulsion. Image : DCNS

The original SMX-Ocean SSK and the Barracuda SSN side by side. Image DCNS

Why The French Won

The Swedes were eliminated early in the race, due largely to the fact that they had not built a single submarine independently for the past two decades, and perhaps also because they were the designers of Collins-class submarines which were giving the RAN so much trouble.

Of the three that made it to the competitive evaluation process phase, the Germans were dropped for concerns that they had not built anything more than 2000 tons so far, even though they were the most prolific boat builders, supplying more than 160 modern SSKs to navies worldwide.

The Japanese Soryu-class submarine was not chosen purportedly because it lacked the range that the Aussies desired. The berthing compartment is also too small for the Australian sailor who typically have a taller stature compared with their Japanese counterparts, this even after a 6 to 8m hull lengthening modification.

The French design, on the other hand is not only super stealthy but also technologically the most advanced, and most importantly has the range equal to or exceeding those of the existing Collins-class boats. DCNS had also the expertise in building submarines up to 14000 tons in the form of nuclear ballistic missile submarines ( SSBN ) or boomers, like the four Triomphant-class boats currently in service with the French Navy.


You can see for yourself why the Shortfin Barracuda could have been so appealing to the Aussies through the above video made by DCNS on the operational capabilities of the SMX-Ocean some months ago.

Constructing the Shortfin Barracuda

All the construction of the Shortfin Barracuda submarines will be done in Australian naval shipbuilder ASC's Adelaide shipyard with the help of DCNS. The project can generate 2900 jobs locally and will no doubt be a great boost to the South Australian economy for many years to come. Because submarines are among the most complicated machines that humans have ever designed, the task ahead for ASC is huge and they know it, describing the construction of the Collins-class SSK as an unprecedented feat of engineering, design and logistics in Australia. Work had to be co-ordinated with 150 major contractors and hundreds of smaller suppliers and many modules were constructed off-site and then shipped to Australia for integration at ASC. Some 33000 drawings and 5000 work orders had to be issued before work could even begin and each submarine required 250000 man-hours over 60 months to assemble. The Shortfin Barracuda is light-years ahead of the Collins in terms of complexity and the question now is whether ASC is up to the job. DCNS Australia describes the task as mammoth and at least twice as big as the Collins project.

For A$50 billion, France has promised the Australians full transfer of stealth technology utilized in their SSN and SSBN submarines, the crown jewels of their submarine designs that they have never shared with anybody else before. Even though the submarines are to be constructed in Australia, another 4000 jobs will be created in France itself in support of the Shortfin Barracuda project.

Looking ahead, contract signing will probably take place in 2017, construction will start between 2022 to 2024 and the first submarine will probably launched in 2028 and be commissioned by 2030. The Shortfin Barracuda is expected to remain cutting edge in terms of operational capabilities until 2060 and will probably in active service until 2070. If the Collins boats were to be retired starting from 2025 as planned, there will be a capability gap which the RAN has to address. The most likely solution will be to have some sort of life extension program to postpone the decommissioning of the Collins-class, but then again, I'm not sure if that's tantamount to flogging a dead horse.

The Shortfin Barracuda firing a presumably Mk48 Mod 7 CBASS torpedo. Image : DCNS

Winners and Losers

Apart from France, South Australian politicians and the naval shipbuilding industry of Australia are big winners as they successfully canvassed for the submarines to be completely constructed in Australia, never mind the competency of the local work force or the available infrastructure. The construction and more importantly the sustainment of the submarine fleet meant that a constant flow of jobs and money into South Australia will be almost a guarantee for the next fifty years.

The Royal Australian Navy could be big winners with the chance of a lifetime to once and for all rectify all the misgivings of the Collins and acquire an underwater capability way beyond their current level and maintain it that way for decades to come, but only if the submarine construction goes smoothly. Chances of that happening is almost close to zero, if historical events could be used as a gauge. Not only had ASC bungled the Collins construction and their subsequent upgrading and sustainment, they have, as part of a consortium, continued to mess up the until now the most expensive defence procurement - the A$8 billion SEA4000 Air Warfare Destroyer project. The Hobart-class AWD are 3 years late with an estimated A$1.2 billion in cost overruns. Its going to be difficult even just to be cautiously optimistic.

Japan was the early favorite in the race for SEA1000, with Shinzo Abe and Tony Abbott being good pals and the inking of a contact for joint development of submarine technology in 2014. Even the Americans also favoured the Japanese since they too have a direct stake in this mega-project as the provider and integrator of the combat and weapons system and would have to work with whoever the Australian chose. An American-Australian-Japanese alliance would also be a good thing to check Chinese ambition in the South China Sea. However, lack of experience with international arms deals and the subsequent ousting of Tony Abbott as prime minister probably doomed the Japanese effort. Japan did not agree to support full construction of the submarines in Australia until very late in the game, after France and Germany had indicated their willingness to do so. Their team of negotiators sent to Australia was said to be comprising of a mix of business executives and Ministry of Defence bureaucrats who had never worked with each other before. Of course the oriental way of business conduct, where a handshake alone would seal a deal, where trust and honour is valued above all else, might be perceived very differently in western cultures.

It is not surprising that Japan was rather peeved to learn that the deal had gone to their competitor when they had invested so much time and effort and that just slightly more than a year ago, they were the front runners. Turnbull will have a great time trying to pacify them and manage the fallout. While the two countries pledged to continue their co-operation in defence research the relationship will never be the same. Hopefully Japan will learn from this experience and turn failure into success in future deals.

Best Submarine at the Best Price?

That was what Tony Abbott promised the Australians but that's not what they are going to get. The entire project had been hijacked by the politicians who have their own agendas to field and don't give a damn what happens a decade or two in the future when they will probably no longer hold office. Building the submarines in Australia is widely reported to carry with it a 30% to 40% premium as opposed to constructing them in their country of origin. The risk of delays and cost overruns is extremely likely given the size and complexity of the project as well as the quality of the local work force. Even if the French design had been chosen on merits of technological advancement, the Aussies could have at least let the French handle the construction in France. What's the use of the best submarine in the world if it can't be put to sea half the time and the other half of the time is spent combating defects?

A procuring a submarine fleet is a long term investment, a strategic partnership that will bind the two countries, in this case France and Australia, for the next 50 years. Good or bad the Aussies would have been stuck with the deal for the next half a century. These submarines are not disposable if anything goes wrong since they are highly customized for Australia's needs and probably nobody else can afford them anyway. The Australian Navy will really have to keep its fingers crossed. As the quest for better submarines continues, we can only wish the RAN Bon Voyage!