The Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thabang Makwetla will officially open the SA Navy’s Submarine Escape Training Simulator (SETS) tomorrow at the West Dockyard in Naval Base Simon’s Town.
This facility is part of Project Wills, the R8.152 billion of three Type 209 submarines. The SA Navy Submarine Service benchmarked the design of this facility against German and Swedish submarine escape simulators, the Navy says in a statement. The Type 209 submarine was designed and built in Germany, “and our submariners completed their submarine escape training in [that] … country before sailing the vessels to South Africa.”
The facility will be used to train submariners for submarine escape procedures and each of the approximately 120 operational SA Navy submariners must undergo this training annually. Currently the Type 209 submarine is one of the most widely used submarines in the world, with 13 countries using approximately 60 boats. Not all of these countries have a SETS and many countries (including Germany and India) have expressed an interest in using this new facility, the statement adds.
Submariners, the Navy notes, work in one of the most difficult environments on earth. As part of the highly rigorous training, each submariner must be able to escape from a submerged submarine. This is also one of the entry requirements into this elite branch of the SA Navy. Without a submarine escape simulator of its own, the SA Navy would have had to make use of similar facilities abroad, with huge cost implications for the entire length of service of the Type 209 submarines (i.e. 120 submariners sent abroad annually for up to 2 weeks for more than 30 years).
The South African Navy’s SETS is quite unique in that it contains a full scale replica of the tower of the Type 209 submarine. Two people can escape via the tower at a time, the process being as follows:
– The submariners (dressed in specially designed escape suits) walk into the replica of the tower on the ground level of the facility.
– They climb into the submarine tower replica, and close the hatch behind them. This area is then flooded, and they open the top hatch of the tower.
The submariners are then met by Navy divers at the bottom of the tank, and they then swim towards the surface, a depth of about 13 meters.
The SETS is also equipped with a forward hatch with a skirt to simulate a rush escape from the forward hatch of the submarine.
It is envisaged that this facility will contribute to the local economy of Cape Town, with many foreign submariners coming to the SA Navy to use the facility to train their escape procedures, the Navy says.
SAS Manthatisi, the lead boat, was laid down at the Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, Kiel, on May 22, 2001, was launched June 15, 2004 and commissioned November 3, 2005. She arrived in South African waters in April 2006. Her sisters were built at the Thyssen Nordseewerke in Emden. Both were commissioned on March 14, 2007. The Charlotte Maxeke arrived in South African waters in April 2007 and SAS Queen Modjadji I in May 2008.
According to the Navy two of the three boats are currently operational. The Manthatisi was taken out of the water and placed in the Simon’s Town submarine shed sometime in 2007 after being damaged in a number of separate incidents. Navy Chief Director Maritime Strategy Rear Admiral Bernhard Teuteberg told the Portfolio Comitee on Defence and Military Veterans last November the boat’s electrics were damaged when “someone” had connected the submarine’s shore service “the wrong way round”, apparently because the wires had not been marked properly. In another incident, the submarine “banged” into a quay during rough weather, causing minor damage to the aft plane. The plane was bent but still functional and the submarine’s watertight integrity had not been affected. The third issue involved the efficiency of the battery, the admiral explained. He told MPs when being charged, these produced a hydrogen gas build-up that damaged some of the 480 cells making up the submarine’s main battery. The problem had been solved, however, by introducing hydrogen release valves and the manufacturer had given the undertaking that some of the damaged units would be replaced free of charge.
Teuteberg, who was briefing the committee on SA’s maritime defence capability, added each submarine costs R30 million to operate.
In 2006 then Senior Officer Submarines Captain Malcolm Farre said the government set two main criteria in selecting the T209. The submarine firstly, had to be of a proven design. The T209 has been around since the 1970s and has never suffered a serious design mishap. Secondly, there had to be adequate logistic support, even if support from the primary supplier was interrupted. A dozen navies use about 60 of the type meaning it has a wide global footprint and parts could likely be sourced elsewhere than from source if necessary.
The Type 209 design beat several other offers, including a French offer to upgrade the three Daphné SSKs then in service and a fourth, which was to be donated. A Franco-Spanish consortium also offered two Daphnés as interim vessels while they constructed the Navy a number of CN2000 Scorpéne submarines. Sweden offered the Type 192, an export version of the Gotland-class submarine and Italy proposed Fincantieri’s S1600 design; while Russia suggested its Project 636 Kilo-class boat.