Australian Navy Eyes German Type-214 Submarine?
News that the Australian Navy may be exploring the idea of purchasing the German Type-214 submarines is surprising. They would replace the Collins class, instead of the French Shortfin Barracuda, which is already underway as the Attack Class. Quite aside from the political economic complications (I'll leave that to others), the choice of submarine is confusing.
Possibly there is a misunderstanding. The Type-214 is a much smaller submarine. It doesn't match the previously understood requirements, or concept, of the Australian Navy's submarine force.
Australia's ABC news reported on May 26 2021 that "Australia considers German submarine option as tensions with French company grow". The Type-214 is explicitly mentioned several times as opposed to other German designs.
Telling the article also states that "The Defence Department is refusing to confirm or deny whether a senior naval officer is examining the Type 214 submarine produced by Germany's TKMS". My thoughts would be that they are not. And here is the very simple reason why.
The Type-214 is a wholly smaller submarine. From the Collins Class onwards Australia has emphasized long range patrolling. This requires larger submarines with large crews. In general Australia wants a nuclear powered submarine, like the US and UK, but does not have the political conditions to order one. So instead the drive has been towards the largest diesel-electric submarines in the world.
When Australia sought designs to replace the Collins Class the Type-214 wasn't on the table. It is much too small. Instead the Type-216 design was which is generally closer to the Collins. It lost to the French designed Shortfin Barracuda which is actually a nuclear submarine with the propulsion stepped-down to diesel-electric.
Type-214. Photo: TKMS
The Type-214 isn't a bad submarine, it is just not aligned to the same requirements. It's also not the latest design. In general, it has been superseded by the Type-218 design, the first customer of which is Singapore. The more advanced Type-212CD is also available for export to selected customers, and presumably Australia would qualify. The unbuilt Type-216 is the larger design, but that only exists on paper.
Size does matter. And submarine designs are not as easy to scale up and down as sometimes it seems. In particular the hull diameter is a generally fixed variable. Increasing that is a major redesign and re-tooling which largely negates the advantages of being an existing design. The Type-214 is essentially a single-deck submarine, so two levels, while the rest being discussed have three-levels.
The hull diameter is also a major factor when it comes to weapons loads. The Type-214 carries 12 torpedo-sized weapons compared to the Shortfin Barracuda's 24. This will be consequential if Australia equips the boats with anti-ship missiles or cruise missiles. The Type-214's torpedo room is also used for accommodation which is a compromise and less than ideal. Potentially the Type-214's eeapons load could be increased if the submarine was lengthened, but not up to 24 rounds.
Reportedly the selection process favored non-AIP (Air Independent Power) submarines. This is another mismatch to the Type-214. Notably the competing Japanese Sōryū class submarine also has AIP, although Japan is replacing this with new battery technologies.
Overall I think that it is unlikely that Australia is considering the Type-214. Possibly someone has confused different models of German submarine?
Or possibly there is a name game going on. Describing the unbuilt Type-216 as an improved Type-214 makes it sound lower risk?
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