Australia To Acquire Nuclear-powered Submarine, Scraps Conventional Submarine Project

Scott Morrison announces the AUKUS pact and nuclear submarine deal in Canberra, with Boris Johnson and Joe Biden on screen for their respective announcements in the UK and US. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Australia will build a fleet of nuclear submarines as part of a new security partnership with the United States and United Kingdom, dubbed AUKUS, reported Australian ABC news. The dramatic move is a response to the growing threat of China and will be seen as provocative by that country.

In a early morning address at Parliament House, part of a three-way virtual appearance with US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia, the US and the UK had “always seen the world through a similar lens”.

China Tensions

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said:

“Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific. This affects us all. The future of the Indo-Pacific will impact all our futures. To meet these challenges, to help deliver the security and stability our region needs, we must now take our partnership to a new level.”

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The submarines will be built in Adelaide, in co-operation with the UK and US.

Morrison stressed “Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability”.

Labor is yet to respond but sources said the plan presented no problem in terms of the ALP platform.

There will be an 18-month long effort by the three countries to develop the best plan to deliver the new capability. In doing this, expertise from the US and the UK will be used.

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In a statement Morrison, Biden and Johnson said: “Through AUKUS, our governments will strengthen the ability of each to support our security and defense interests, building on our longstanding and ongoing bilateral ties.

“We will promote deeper information and technology sharing. We will foster deeper integration of security and defense-related science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains. And in particular, we will significantly deepen co-operation on a range of security and defense capabilities.”

The leaders said: “The endeavour we launch today will help sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”

American Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines are formidable platform that can defeat any Chinese and Russian built submarines. The Virginia-class costs approximately US$2.42 billion fixed-price incentive contract to a previously awarded contract will see General Dynamics Electric Boats continue to subcontract with Huntington Ingalls Industries – Newport News Shipbuilding (HII-NNS).

The German-built diesel-powered submarine costs almost US$450 million apiece and Spanish-built S81 submarine costs €439 million. On the contrary, the cancelled Shortfin Barracuda could cost Australia A$7.5 billion per submarine without inflation of dollar values and that’s a diesel-electric powered submarine.

The crew of USS Indiana (SSN 789) salute after bringing the ship to life during the commissioning ceremony. USS Indiana is the U.S. Navy’s 16th Virginia-class fast-attack submarine and the third ship named for the State of Indiana. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Leah Stiles/Released)

Short-fin Barracuda Cost Blow Out

Currently, Australia has a contract with the French for conventionally powered submarines. This has been controversial because of the long lead time and escalating costs.

The French government has reacted angrily. It declared the Australian decision to halt the current “Future Submarine Program” was “contrary to the letter and spirit of the co-operation that prevailed between France and Australia, based on a relationship of political trust as well as on the development of a very high-level defense industrial and technological base in Australia”.

In a statement Jean-Yves Le Drian, minister for Europe and foreign affairs, and Florence Parly, minister of the armed forces, said: “The American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret.”

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating criticized the announcement as representing a further loss of Australian sovereignty.

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The agreement for Australia “to move to a fleet of US supplied nuclear submarines will amount to a lock-in of Australian military equipment and thereby forces, with those of the United States with only one underlying objective: the ability to act collectively in any military engagement by the United States against China” Keating said.

“This arrangement would witness a further dramatic loss of Australian sovereignty, as material dependency on the United States robbed Australia of any freedom or choice in any engagement Australia may deem appropriate,” he said.

Senate cross-bencher Rex Patrick, a former submariner, said the decision on nuclear submarines should come under rigorous parliamentary scrutiny.

Senate cross-bencher Rex Patrick said:

“I’ve been a strong critic of the French submarine deal. The delays and cost overruns are huge and unacceptable. But we have to be careful we don’t move from one massive procurement disaster into something else that hasn’t been thought through properly.”

Patrick said that “acquiring, operating and maintaining a nuclear submarine fleet without a domestic nuclear power industry is a challenge that must not be underestimated”.

Turning to the Australian submarine-building plan, Johnson said: “This will be one of the most complex and technically demanding projects in the world, lasting decades and requiring the most advanced technology.

A senior US official described the agreement as “a fundamental decision, that binds decisively Australia to the United States and Great Britain for generations”.

The agreement spells the end for a $90bn contract Australia signed with the French company Naval Group in 2016. That deal had become bogged down in cost over-runs, delays and design changes. It marks a setback for President Emmanuel Macron.

“The world is a jungle,” the former French ambassador to Washington, Gérard Araud, observed on Twitter. “France has just been reminded this bitter truth by the way the US and the UK have stabbed her in the back in Australia. C’est la vie.”

Naval Group, which had been contracted to build 12 state-of-the-art attack class submarines, said the new agreement was a “great disappointment”.

Australia insists that it has no intention of pursuing nuclear weapons and will abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but critics said the decision could still indirectly spur the proliferation of weapons.

Any new nuclear-powered submarines, which are powered with the help of enriched uranium, will take years – possibly over a decade – to develop. But once at sea, the aim is to put Australia’s currently diesel-powered navy on a technological par with China’s navy, the world largest.

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