Australia to Outfit Collins-class Submarines with Tomahawk Missiles

Officers and sailors at work on Collins-class submarine, HMAS Sheean, while transiting Cockburn Sound in Western Australia.

Australia is looking at outfitting its in-service Collins-class submarines with Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles as part of their forthcoming Life of Type Extension (LOTE).

During a briefing on the sidelines of INDO PACIFIC 2022, Rear Admiral Peter Quinn, head of Navy Capability said that the Royal Australian Navy is “doing the work” to see if equipping the Collins with Tomahawk is feasible.

“We’re doing the work to look at what it would take to put Tomahawk into those [Collins class] ships”, said Rear Admiral Peter Quinn – Head of Navy Capability.

As part of the LOTE program, starting in 2026, a single Collins-class submarine will complete modernisation every two years. The LOTE upgrade, which is still in development, will see the ship’s power and propulsion systems overhauled, as well as their sensors upgraded.

Regarding the sensors, Naval News learned during the event that French company Safran Electronics and Defense was selected as the “preferred bidder” to fit its non-penetrating Attack Optronic Mast for the Collins-class LOTE. The mast was already selected for the now-cancelled Attack-class program. Safran told Global Defense Corp the company already successfully replaced legacy periscope with next-generation masts as part of the Swedish Gotland-class submarine Mid Life Update program (with which the Collins-class shares the same DNA, both classes being designed by Kockums).

If Tomahawk is selected as part of LOTE, the necessary hardware and software modifications to accommodate the advanced weapons will be undertaken during that time. 

“During the program, ASC will replace the propulsion systems, diesel engines, generators, and the power conversion and distribution systems. There will be an optronics upgrade, a planned cooling system upgrade, and ASC will carry out a range of hull assessments. ASC will integrate the new equipment into the existing command and control system.” 

Tube-launched Tomahawk

Because the Collins class lacks a Vertical Launch System (VLS) any integration of Tomahawk would require the procurement of torpedo tube-launched variants, such as those utilised by the Royal Navy (RN). 

Global Defense Corp understands that the tube-launched variant of Tomahawk is currently not in production anymore. Raytheon would likely be OK in starting production again, should there be a significant demand for the missile. The RN could consider a “group buy” with the RAN.

The Collins class is one of the largest non-nuclear submarines and has a relatively large weapons load. Carrying Tomahawks aboard is thus not as challenging as on smaller submarines. The adjustments to the weapons stowage and handling would be minor. The U.S. made combat system, which connects to the weapons launch, would need to be upgraded. But this is to be expected during the LOTE anyway. The Tomahawks will provide the RAN with a ‘first night’ strike capability which could be employed in both tactical and strategic scenarios.”

The Opposition Labor party has previously committed to looking at equipping the Collins-class submarines with Tomahawks in a bid to avoid a potential capability gap. This is, however, the first public confirmation that the Australian Department of Defence itself is looking at the possibility as part of the LOTE.  

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