Submarines operating in covert locations are effectively 'driving blind' and can be subject to unexpected collisions from marine debris or topography.
However, the impact those collisions have on submarines and other marine vehicles, such as autonomous underwater vessels will be studied for the first time in the world at a new research facility at the Australian Maritime College, at Newnham.
The underwater collision research facility was officially opened at the AMC on Thursday, after being conceived four years ago.
AMC project lead Roberto Ojeda said the facility would be used by students and industry, along with government departments such as Defence, to research the impact underwater collisions have on vehicles and help improve safety.
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He said it was similar to the way crash testing on cars is used to improve safety for car drivers and passengers.
"You would be familiar with the NCAP safety measures for cars, well as of right now you can't do that for submarines," he said.
The research conducted at the facility will be used to create methodology and data to find out what the impact will be.
At the centre of the facility is a large, drop-weight impact test machine that will smash custom-designed and floodable scale models of vessel components and sections.
It can measure the impact of collisions at speeds of up to eight metres per second and can drop a vertical weight of up to 500 kilograms onto a metal object.
Dr Ojeda said the facility could be used to examine the impact of collisions, not only on vehicles, but on underwater sea cables, for example, the Basslink cable, or to shock test equipment.
"The presence of water changes everything. And when you're dealing with underwater vehicles, the water isn't just around the vessel, it's within it, which means, under the impact, these structures behave very differently to structures colliding in dry environments."
At the official opening event, Dr Ojeda thanked his colleagues, his team and his family for assisting him on his journey to develop the prototypes for the research facility.
University of Tasmania vice-chancellor Rufus Black said it was an exciting step forward for the AMC, to expand its capabilities in the defence and maritime spaces.
"We need to develop our own capability, we need the know-how, and that takes generations to develop," he said.
Professor Black said the facility added to an existing suite of maritime research facilities which are the most advanced in the southern hemisphere.
"We are committed to making a technical contribution to the development of Australia's sovereign naval shipbuilding program commensurate with our role as the national maritime institution," he said.
AMC principal Michael van Balen said the new facility would advance AMC's aim for the defence precinct to become an integral part of the national defence network.
"The research will enable Defence to operate ships and submarines in the most operationally safe and effective manner," he said.
The facility was federally funded but the dollar figure amount was not disclosed at the opening.
The underwater collision research facility is a joint development between Defence, Science and Technology and the AMC.