Is Australia up for a fuel cell submarine?

According to the ABC the off-the-shelf TKMS Type 214 submarine is being considered as an “interim solution” while we wait for the bespoke Attack Class submarine. That would be welcome – a rare case of common-sense breaking out! 

Like the Scorpène we have been recommending, the Type 214 has an excellent Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system making it more capable near Australia than the exorbitantly expensive Attack Class.  

In our view the Scorpène, Type 214 or a similar fuel cell submarine in the sub $1 billion price range, should replace the Attack Class. If the Government could manage to buy it straight off the production line in Germany ten to fifteen of these could be purchased for one bespoke $7.5 billion Attack Class. 

The Type 214 has the latest fuel cell system which provides for about 3 weeks of silent submerged operation. It also has an advanced hull enabling it to dive to 400 meters. The hull is however magnetic which could be detectable in the shallow waters of the Timor and Arafura seas. The TKMS Type 212 may be better for those waters as it has a non-magnetic hull. They are limited to 200-meter depths but that would not be an issue in these shallow northern waters. 

We think the navy should be for defending Australia and its near neighbours. If that is the objective, there are many excellent fuel-cell submarines that can do the job at a fraction of the price of the Attack Class. Two related submarines could be selected – one for the shallow northern waters and the other for the deeper waters of the Indian, Southern and Pacific oceans.  

The Government’s plan to try and build a jumbo long-range diesel submarine with no AIP is deeply flawed and should be abandoned on technical, political, and cost grounds.   

Further reading: Why Germany’s New Super Stealth Submarines Could Take on Any Navy 

Read our full plan here.

UPDATE 23 July 2021

It would appear that defence is not and has not considered the Type 214 or any other fuel cell submarine – they are sticking with the long-range diesel submarine with no fuel cells idea embodied in the $7.5 billion Attack Class design.

photo: Type 214 submarine, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems  

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