- Oct 12, 2015
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The debate of nuclear vs. conventional for Australia is nothing more than a hypothetical at present and likely will remain that way for the next 20 years minimum. We are not a nuclear nation; for us operating a nuclear submarine would be like somebody that lives off-grid 200 kilometres out of Broken Hill buying a Tesla and trying to charge it. There's no doubt that nuclear >>> diesel for the long range, fast attack role that our submarines perform but its not a plausible option for the RAN.great post by the way
The debate about subs is a complex one, as the use of a submarine itself is not well understood. Especially given all the different types of subs, different weapon systems and the needs of each nation.
The short term debate for Australia has to be limited to nuclear v conventional as the unmanned subs are still some way off. Conventional has the advantage in shallower waters but is really limited to surveillance, as they are too slow to be support for convoys. Further their lack of speed and lack of ability to maintain stealth for any reasonable period of time on the move, means they are like a snapping turtle that has to sit and wait for prey (such as a shipping channel or strait).
Nuclear on the other hand are true blue sea warfare vessels that can be stealth, hunt, work in convoys and proper weapon systems.
A conventional would have made sense pre the rise of China or even in the case where China's subs were limited to the shallow waters of the south china sea. With the new naval bases (Philippines) providing China with quick access to blue oceans, the containment using conventional subs is no longer feasible.
In regards to cost, a $3b sub that works is a very hefty price to pay if we lose one. Yet Australia's subs will come in at closer to $10b each and may or may not work for the first 10-20 years as we experienced with the collins.
The unmanned subs of the future is the only real way of dealing with an enemy the size of India, China or an allegiance of power of that size. Being small means they can avoid detection from many traditional warfare systems, operating without continuous transmission avoids the issue you raise and being cheap (on a relative basis) they are disposable. Similar to WW2, the US built ship that lasted two or three voyages...........cheap and nasty is the way of the future in a war of attrition and containment.
And Australia already has small, cheap, unmanned, one-use submarines, see here: