The submarines are set to be upgraded with an advanced optronics system under a new multi-million-dollar Commonwealth government investment.
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Minister for Defence Peter Dutton has announced a $381 million commitment to upgrade the Royal Australian Navy’s Collins Class submarine fleet with an advanced optronics system, designed to improve stealth capability.
Specifically, the upgrades, to be delivered from Osborne Shipyard in South Australia, involve placing a digital camera on an extendable mast-raising system outside the pressure hull.
The non-hull penetrating system is expected to capture imagery at a faster rate, before transmitting data into the submarine digitally via a watertight cable.
The new technology is also expected to increase the amount of space available in the submarines by removing the large periscope column.
The upgrades aim to better align Australia’s submarine capability with those deployed by partners in the United Kingdom and the United States, which already leverage optronics systems.
This could also provide RAN crews with experience using optronics systems, which are expected to form part of a future nuclear-propelled submarine fleet promised under the AUKUS agreement.
HMAS Rankin is set to be the first Collins Class submarine to be fitted with the new optronics system from 2024, with the technology expected to be operational by 2026.
Minister Dutton said the investment would ensure the Collins Class fleet is capable of supporting key Navy missions ahead of the delivery of the next-generation fleet.
“The optronics system will help maintain the tactical advantage in intelligence gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance, and anti-surface warfare,” Minister Dutton said.
“It will make our submarines stealthier by reducing the amount of time the submarine is exposed above the surface. Stealth is vital to a submarine.”
The upgrades are tipped to generate over 20 new shipbuilding jobs.
“The majority of integration, software development and installation work for the optronics will be carried out in Australia,” Minister Dutton added.
This latest investment builds on the $6 billion life-of-type extension (LOTE) for all six Collins Class submarines, announced last year.
The Collins LOTE program is expected to involve rebuilding each submarine once it achieves 30 years of service, with each upgrade scheduled to take approximately two years.
The submarines will reportedly be rebuilt by ASC in Adelaide, with the work to be supported by Saab Kockums, the original co-builder of the fleet.
Defence had initially planned to upgrade just three of the platforms, ahead of the delivery of Naval Group’s 12 diesel-powered submarines under the former $90 billion Attack Class contract.
Minister Dutton revealed Defence is yet to agree to the terms for a contract termination settlement with the French shipbuilding company, with an agreement “not likely” before the end of the financial year.
“Well, the negotiations are underway at the moment,” he said.
“So, once those figures have been settled, then we’ll provide that information, but at the moment they’re in negotiations with those companies.”