15 April 2014
The Collins Class Submarine HMAS Farncomb (photo : News)
SWEDISH defence giant Saab is making a bold, secret play for a slice of Australia’s $30 billion future submarine project.
As Federal Government placed all options for the navy’s future submarine back on the table this week, News Corp Australia can reveal that Saab and the Swedish Government have been engaged in secret talks with the Defence Department about the design of the new boats.
A Swedish delegation travelled to Canberra in March for first round talks.
Sweden has along history in submarines but it moved away from the business about 15 years ago when its shipbuilder Kockums — the company that designed the Collins Class submarine — was sold to German company Thyssen Krupp MS (TKMS).
The Swedish Government last month cancelled a deal with Kockums to buy its future submarine and since then it has contracted Saab to examine options for the nation’s sub-surface fleet.
One option is buying the submarine builder back from TKMS and possibly expanding operations in Australia.
Saab has hired almost 100 submarine experts from Kockums during the past month and its spokesman Anders Carp hinted that the hi-tech defence company could make a bid for Adelaide based submarine maker ASC if an when it came up for sale.
“We are impressed with the company,” Mr Carp said.
When asked if Saab might buy the company and build the Swedish submarines in Adelaide he did not rule it out and he added that 80 per cent of the company’s popular Gripen fighter jet was built elsewhere.
He said discussions between Saab and Australia had involved the design of the vessel and not the combat management systems. Australia favours an American combat system.
Saab already has crucial safety systems installed in the Collins Class fleet.
Mr Carp said the option for an evolved Collins Class vessel would be the most cost effective solution for Australia.
Saab executives met with government staffers on the sidelines of this week’s ASPI submarine conference in Canberra.
Defence Minister David Johnston told the conference that all options were on the table as the government developed its first Defence White Paper for release early next year.
He said the favoured option was to build the boats in Adelaide but “not at any cost”.
Options also include a possible partnership with the world’s biggest and most capable diesel-electric submarines the 4200-tonne Japanese Soryu Class boat.
Discussions with the Japanese are well advanced, but Senator Johnston refused to elaborate saying they were “commercial-in-confidence”.
There is strong interest in the Swedish designed Stirling engine and its air independent propulsion system that allows the vessel to remain submerged for long periods of time.
The biggest drawback with a diesel-electric boat compared with a nuclear vessel is the need to “snorkel” for air to feed the diesels that recharge the batteries.
The advantage of conventional powered vessels is their silence and that they can operate in shallower waters than nuclear submarines.