For Submarine Availability and Performance, Nothing Touches Polyethylene Cable Systems
Keith Wells, CEO of SMI
Australia is prioritising control of its territorial waters and is increasing its submarine capacity to help meet that challenge. Older submarines are subject to life extension programmes and future submarines are being designed with ever more complex combat and operational capabilities. Increased national dependency on these platforms should be supported with greater emphasis on increasing their operational availability, as well as ensuring consistent long-term performance.
SMI advocates for a change in design culture away from short maintenance and replacement cycles. Replacing cable systems at multiple points during the life of a submarine reduces its availability for service and is a significant cost to navies. Its principal beneficiaries are cable system providers, through a thriving resupply business.
Scientific Management International has been a supplier to the Royal Australian Navy for more than 25 years. Through our TelemetriX™ portfolio of products, we support future submarine capability in the Australian fleet and enable deployment of pioneering tactical technologies onto current platforms. We developed the TelemetriX™ architecture to allow rapid and secure interoperability between critical naval systems. Power, control and high-speed data transfer are delivered on a dependable infrastructure to ensure long term system availability and performance.
Cable systems that ensure systems operate to specification, without failure, throughout the life of the boat are available. When lifetime costs are calculated, the opportunity to make significant financial savings through use of these systems are clear. To prevent submarine cable failures and break the cycle of expensive service programmes, lessons must be learned and a change in approach adopted to preclude recurring failure patterns.
Understanding the impact of cable jacket material and termination practices on the durability of submarine cable systems is vital. Polyurethane (PU) and polyethylene (PE) materials continued to vie for selection by designers until recently.
While presenting robustness and manufacturing benefits, PU is hygroscopic and this propensity to absorb moisture increases as temperature rises. We have observed rapid degradation in combat system performance in the warm waters of the Gulf. Investigating this phenomenon further, it was discovered that polyurethane cables immersed for more than a year in natural seawater at temperatures above 25°C absorb about 1.8% of water and undergo hydrolysis at high temperature.
PE does not have those performance issues but is difficult to process, atomically bond and amalgamate. However, successful atomic amalgamation bonding has been delivered by SMI for the naval defence market since the late 1960s. Ever since, it has been the material of choice for the UK’s Royal Navy and other Commonwealth fleets. US manufacturers are now revisiting PE in a bid to deliver the cable system life enjoyed by the Royal Navy, which reports PE cable systems still delivering designed functionality after over 30 years in service.
With a more appropriate cable jacket selected, architects can turn their attention to achieving the current and future service density and capability they desire by adopting multi gland penetrations and optical fibre systems. These build performance onto established PE reliability characteristics to deliver future enabled systems for current and forthcoming platforms.
Through life cost assessments demonstrate the value for money of engineering decisions previously deemed uneconomic. PU strategies considered to offer value on build have been demonstrated to introduce inordinate costs over the platform’s lifetime through failure. If these elements are well understood and applied, defence organisations can rightly demand extended warranties for submarine cable systems instead of relying on the rather esoteric notion of a design life.
It’s with an eye on platform availability and performance, future capability needs and through life cost that astute designers are changing their view on cable system selection. PE manufacturing capability exists to prevent submarine cable failures and deliver cable infrastructure able to support future capability demands over the life of the platform. By designing appropriate technologies and selecting right first time, manufacturers are able to eradicate cable leaks and plug porous defence budgets.
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