With delays and uncertainties engulfing the Australia–UK–US submarine partnership (AUKUS) program, the Australian government has decided to invest in the capabilities of its existing submarines, whose lifespan has repeatedly been extended.
The government said it will invest $202 million in a five-year contract with Raytheon Australia to sustain and upgrade the capabilities of the Royal Australian Navy’s fleet of Collins class submarines. The subs, which were expected to be retired around 2026, have seen their lifespan extended to the 2030s. Each submarine in the six-strong Collins fleet was commissioned between 1996 and 2003.
At 77.8 meters in length with a beam of 7.8 meters, the six vessels were the largest conventionally powered submarines in the world at the time of their commissioning.
Raytheon is expected to provide in-service support for the diesel-electric submarines’ combat system during Australia’s transition to nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS program. The AUKUS partnership is intended to yield at least eight nuclear-powered subs at a cost of $120 billion, but the timeline for results will be more than a decade.
The support from Raytheon will include a life extension beginning in 2026, ongoing sustainment and capability enhancements.
“The ongoing sustainment and upgrade of these boats will help maintain a capability advantage and ensure our fleet is ready to meet the challenges across our strategic environment,” said Tony Dalton, Deputy Secretary Naval Shipbuilding and Sustainment.
The AUKUS program continues to be shrouded by uncertainty over where, when and what will be built. It is squarely aimed at countering China’s strategic ambitions; China has said the program could provoke regional confrontation and division in the Indo-Pacific region.
Conceived in September last year, Australia has since established a Nuclear-Powered Submarine Taskforce that is devoting 18 months to determining the ‘optimal pathway’ for implementing the program.