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S. Korea Offers Australia Interim Submarine to Close Collins Gap: Report

South Korea has offered to build a fleet of conventional attack submarines for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) to bridge a potential capability gap between the aging Collins submarine and the future introduction of a new class of nuclear-powered undersea attack vessels.

As part of a campaign to sell 450 Redback Infantry Fighting Vehicles to the Australian Army, Korean government officials showcased the KSS-III model, billed as the world’s first air-independent propulsion (AIP)-powered submarine that can handle ballistic missiles, according to Breaking Defense.

The 3,600-ton Daewoo Shipbuilding and Hyundai Heavy Industries vessel uses a combination of an advanced diesel engine and an AIP system to increase its cruising speed, the outlet added, citing the officials.

They stated that the vessel could be built in seven years.

KSS-III submarine
KSS-III submarine. Image: Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering

Swedish Offer
The offer comes days after Saab also proposed to fill the gap, offering to build a submarine for the RAN while sharing the technology.

According to Naval Technology, building a nuclear-powered submarine is extremely challenging, presumably taking many more years than a conventional sub. 

“In my view, there will be a gap. Potentially there will be a need for a gap filler, call it ‘son of Collins’ or something else, but we absolutely want to be in that [competition],” Saab CEO Micael Johansson was quoted by the outlet as saying on 21 July.

Collins Upgrade

The RAN’s six Collins subs were originally scheduled to begin retiring by 2026, a decade earlier than the induction of their replacement — the conventionally-powered 10 French Barracuda class.

To overcome that challenge, Canberra announced a $6 billion life-of-type extension for the submarines, under which each vessel was to go through a two-year upgrade at the end of its 30-year service life.

However, the Australian government replaced the French conventional design in 2021 with a nuclear-powered one, which will be based on either UK or US technology.

Australia will receive a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines with the design finalized in 2023.

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