Australia Approves Next Phase of Collins Class Submarine Life Extension

Tomahawk missiles and optronic mast upgrades for submarines canceled; vessels to instead undergo modernization package covering propulsion, weapons, and sensors.
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  • 07:35 AM, June 6, 2024
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Australia Approves Next Phase of Collins Class Submarine Life Extension
HMAS Collins diesel-electric guided missile submarine @Australia MOD

The Australian government is committing $4-5 billion to a life-of-type extension program for its Collins class submarines, ensuring they maintain a strong strike and deterrence capability.

HMAS Farncomb will be the first of the six Collins class submarines to undergo this program, with sustainment and capability enhancements starting in 2026 at Osborne in South Australia.

All six submarines will receive a modernization package covering propulsion, weapons, and sensors, with the previous plan for Tomahawk missiles and a new optronic mast shelved.

Australia's plans for optronics upgrade and Tomahawk cruise missile addition to its Collins class submarines have been scrapped, the defence ministry has confirmed. The decision, made in consultation with Defense and the United States, cites concerns over complexity and cost-effectiveness.

The Royal Australian Navy had initially intended to enhance the submarines' strike and deterrence capabilities with the Tomahawk missiles. However, logistical challenges, including the unavailability of the torpedo-tube launched variant of the missile, which has been out of production for over 12 years, led to the cancellation. Alternative options, such as renewed production or procurement from the U.S. Navy's existing stockpile, were considered impractical.

The new Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines, expected in the early 2030s, will include Tomahawk missiles as standard. These missiles will also be deployed on the Navy’s Hobart class destroyers, and there is an in-principle agreement to fit them on the Hunter class frigates, pending a feasibility study.

Today’s decision also affects the inclusion of Safran's optronic mast system, originally developed for the canceled Attack-class submarines. Optronics refers to a visual sensor technology widely used on submarines. “An optronics upgrade for the Collins class submarines, announced by the former Coalition government, will not proceed following advice that it would have added complexity and risk to the life-of-type extension program,” the ministry said.

Australia Approves Next Phase of Collins Class Submarine Life Extension
Tomahawk cruise missile @Raytheon

Australia's Collins Class Submarines Plagued by “Unprecedented Corrosion”

Recent media reports have revealed severe corrosion issues on HMAS Farncomb and HMAS Sheean, impacting half of Australia's Collins Class submarine fleet. Urgent maintenance and upgrades have led to three submarines undergoing repairs, leaving only three available for Navy operations in 2024, the report said. Officials from ASC Pty Ltd (formerly the Australian Submarine Corporation) confirmed extensive corrosion damage on HMAS Sheean, requiring significant repairs until at least Christmas. Corrosion problems have also extended the docking period for HMAS Farncomb. This marks the first time half the fleet has been out of action since 2012.

Government officials have yet to clarify the impact of these challenges on the overall life-extension program for the submarines.

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