Beneath the impressive amphibious landings and multi-national fleet manoeuvres lurked an unseen menace, keeping sailors on their toes during Exercise Talisman Sabre 21 (TS21). Royal Australian Navy submarines HMA Ships Collins and Rankin were on the prowl to disrupt surface-ship operations during a series of attack and interdiction missions. A United States submarine also contributed to the sub-surface training scenario. Unlike the submarine wolf packs of WWII, today’s subs are lone hunters; dodging sonar and other sensors looking for a torpedo shot.
Australian Navy Captain Peter Bartlett, TS21 Maritime Response Cell said, “Submarines were a very dangerous adversary when positioned well. It does not mean the submarine will always win. There are ways to defeat submarines through manoeuvering and employment of air and surface assets. That’s because of the environment and the capabilities of modern submarines. Much of the training is based around the employment of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, as well as surface ships. It all depends on the environment and the water in which you operate,” he said.
As part of the opposing force for a portion of TS21, subs conducted sea-denial operations against the allied fleet, limiting their freedom of movement on the water’s surface. This forced surface elements to undertake what Captain Bartlett referred to as the most complex type of maritime warfare â€“ anti-submarine operations. The anti-submarine warfare was something surface elements had to perform over extended periods to keep adversaries at bay, with difficulty depending on a variety of conditions. The exercise included time to debrief the submarine teams after each serial and apply what they had learned.
The Collins class of six Australian-built diesel-electric submarines is operated by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). The Collins class takes its name from Australian Vice Admiral John Augustine Collins; all six submarines are named after significant RAN personnel who distinguished themselves in action during World War II. The boats were the first submarines to be constructed in Australia, prompting widespread improvements in Australian industry and delivering a sovereign (Australian controlled) sustainment/maintenance capability. The Collins class will be replaced by the Attack-class submarine (SEA 1000) that is scheduled, according to the 2016 Defence White Paper, to begin entering service in the early 2030s with construction extending to 2050.