Collins Class fleet sonar upgrades underway

Work to extend the life and capabilities of Australia’s fleet of six Collins Class submarines is set to commence, with Thales Australia being awarded a $230 million contract to upgrade the sonar technology of the fleet.

The $230 million contract with Thales, which is part of a $542 million project to upgrade the sensor capabilities of the submarines, will employ 50 people at Thales Australia’s Rydalmere facility in western Sydney, where sonar technology is manufactured and integrated.

Thales Australia CEO Chris Jenkins said the Collins sonar upgrades continued a 30-year history of support for the Collins program since the original transfer of sonar technology from France in the 1980s that formed the basis of the underwater systems business in Australia.

"It is critical that Australia maintain the highest levels of submarine capability from the Collins fleet until the Future Submarine enters service," Jenkins said.

"The sonar systems are the ‘eyes and ears’ of the submarines, and Thales will bring together the best underwater sensing technology from around the world to ensure the Collins remains a potent force."

In an internationally collaborative program, the Collins’ legacy cylindrical array will be replaced with a modular cylindrical array (MCA) based on Sonar 2076 submarine technology developed by Thales teams in the UK. The existing flank array will be replaced by the latest generation flank array from Thales teams in France.

"France and Australia have collaborated closely on sonar systems for the Collins submarines since the start of the program more than 30 years ago. Thales teams based in France, UK and Australia have worked together as one team to master the sonar technology in Australia and to share know-how with one ambition: assure long-term regional superiority for the Royal Australian Navy," said Alexis Morel, vice president, underwater systems at Thales.

Thales will also work with local industry, including Raytheon Australia as the combat system integrator, to deliver the upgrades for the six submarines and integrating products from other Australian providers, including Sonartech Atlas and L3 Oceania.

Managing director of Raytheon Australia, Michael Ward, said this project will generate work across several Australian companies.

"As combat system integrator for the Collins Submarine, Raytheon Australia recognises the important decision taken by the government to significantly upgrade the Collins sonar capabilities," Ward said.

"This project will generate significant work for Raytheon's Australian sub-contractors, including Thales Australia. Raytheon Australia looks forward to working with the Commonwealth, and with Thales, to integrate and deliver this exciting new capability for the Royal Australian Navy."

ASC, as the platform system integrator of the Collins Class, will work closely with Raytheon and Thales to install and integrate the system into the platform, starting with HMAS Waller during its full-cycle docking currently underway at ASC in Osborne, South Australia.

ASC CEO and managing director Stuart Whiley said the submarine enterprise is working collaboratively to maintain highly capable Collins Class submarines and to ensure the smooth transition to the Future Submarine fleet.

"With the Collins Class submarine set to be Australia’s submarine capability until the early 2030s when the Future Submarines enter service, this sonar upgrade project is incredibly important in maintaining that capability into the future," Whiley said.

"As builder and maintainer of the Collins Class submarines, we have a world-class submarine workforce numbering more than 1,110 people in South Australia and Western Australia, and I’m incredibly proud of the work they do in keeping Australia’s submarines available, capable and reliable."

Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne said the upgrades will better enable Australia's submarines to safely navigate, detect and locate other vessels while remaining hidden themselves.

"Australian defence suppliers are central to the sovereignty of our current and future military capability," Minister Pyne said.

"As a result of their continued demonstration of expertise, Australian companies will have an enduring role in keeping our submarines superior and safe."

The overall $542 million project to upgrade the Collins Class fleet is expected to achieve an Australian industry content figure of 70 per cent, creating more than 100 direct jobs.

Fifty-one jobs will be based in NSW, 25 in WA, 21 in SA and 13 in the ACT.

Collins Class fleet sonar upgrades underway
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