Royal Australian Navy Collins-class submarines are set to be replaced in the 2040’s by a UK designed SSN AUKUS fleet. (Australia DoD)

WASHINGTON — Australia is moving forward with its plan to conduct a $4 to $5 billion life extension on its Collins-class submarines, with HMAS Farncomb (SSG-74) first in line, but has scaled back previously planned upgrades, the government announced today.

“The life-of-type extension of HMAS Farncomb will be undertaken by the highly skilled workers at ASC and commence in 2026 at Osborne in South Australia,” the Australia’s Department of Defence said in a statement. “The life-of-type extension program will ensure the future availability of the Collins-class submarines, without compromising on submariner safety.”

Farncomb is the second boat in Australia’s conventionally powered fleet of six Collins-class submarines. It was commissioned in 1998 and had been expected to retire in the mid-2020s along with the rest of its class. But with Australia not planning to receive its first American Virginia-class submarine, part of the AUKUS trilateral security pact, until the 2030s, Canberra has pulled the trigger on extending its legacy submarine fleet to bridge the expected gap in its navy’s force structure.

“The life-of-type extension program underscores the Albanese Government’s unwavering commitment to keeping Australians safe by ensuring the [Australian Defence Force] has the capabilities it needs to deter potential adversaries,” said Pat Conroy, minister for defence industry.

“Sustainment of the Collins-class submarines continues to meet the Navy’s operational requirements and ensures the submarines remain an enduring, potent and credible capability that is critical to Australia’s national security,” he continued.

Notably, Australia has opted to scale back previously planned upgrades to the optronics for its submarines, citing “added complexity and risk to the life of type extension program,” according to the statement. Optronics refers to a visual sensor technology widely used on submarines.

“The SSN AUKUS nuclear-powered conventionally armed submarines will likewise not be fitted with this particular design,” the statement added.

The Collins-class will also not receive the Tomahawk cruise missile after the Department of Defence and the United States advised the Australian government that it “is not viable and does not represent value for money.”

However, today’s statement added that the government does still plan to equip the Hobart-class destroyers with Tomahawks and “the government has agreed in-principle to fit the Hunter-class frigates with Tomahawks, subject to a feasibility study.”