Submarines: December 13, 2003

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:   Someone passing the Pentagon during the end of September would have noticed the lights burning brightly all night at the US Navys Submarine Directorate. An Australian Type 471 Collins-class diesel-electric submarine had just sunk an unidentified US Navy submarine (most likely a  Los Angeles-class nuclear attack sub, which the US Navy asserts is superior to any other non-US sub in the world today). The diesel-powered Collins-class is relatively modest, compared to American boats, with a submerged displacement of approximately 3,300 tons. The nuclear-powered Los Angeles-class -- designed to sink Soviet submarines during the Cold War -- is far more sophisticated and typically displaces over 6,900 tons submerged.

In late September HMAS Waller (S-75) had sunk the pride of the US nuclear submarine fleet with practice torpedoes during an unspecified exercise. HMAS Waller was launched in 2001. The RAN ordered six of these subs from Holland in 1987; the last HMAS Rankin was launched earlier this year. The class was designed by Swedish shipbuilders Kockums. 

The US Navy has declined to identify the sub involved or provide details about the exercise. The unidentified US boat was sunk with a Mk 48 practice torpedo. Both RAN and USN subs use this weapon. Also during the exercise, Wallers sister ship, HMAS Rankin, "sank" an unidentified Singaporean ASW ship.

Australias Collins-class boats have been plagued by mechanical and combat systems problems, including a hull configuration that produced too much noise, faulty piping and valves, a combat system that critics said did not work, and faulty hull welds on the lead boat, HMAS Collins. During the past four years the fleet has been recalled several times for refit and repair, leading some critics to suggest that Australia ditch the entire $5 billion investment and either start over or else simply abandon using submarines. The present combat system includes command and control systems, plus sonar, acoustic signal processing and associated software

Commenting upon Australias success in the recent exercise, the Submarine Group Commander was quoted as saying that, At certain speeds [the Collins-class is ] virtually undetectable and can transform themselves into underwater black holes. Indeed, this is one of the greatest threats now facing the US Navy: the ability to detect and sink modern diesel-electric subs which make essentially no detectable noise at low (attack) speeds. Until such optical systems as LASH become operational, ASW will continue to rely upon acoustic detection. K.B. Sherman

 


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