Australia could lease nuclear-powered submarines from the US, says defense minister Peter Dutton

PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. (Sept. 29, 2018) The crew of USS Indiana (SSN 789) salute after brining the ship to life during the commissioning ceremony. 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)

Australia’s defense minister Peter Dutton confirms that the short-term leasing of nuclear-powered submarines from the UK or the US is being considered by the government. “The short answer is yes,” Dutton said when asked on Sky News about leasing vessels.

The finance minister, Simon Birmingham, and the defence minister, Peter Dutton, confirmed in separate interviews on Sunday that leasing submarines from the AUKUS allies could be a stop-gap solution until Australia takes delivery of its own – potentially in the 2040s.

Birmingham said leasing arrangements would not necessarily “increase the number of submarines and the capability across all of the partner nations” but would help with training and information sharing.

“Doing so may provide opportunities for us to train our sailors, provide the skills and knowledge in terms of how we operate,” he told the ABC.

“ [It would help] provide the platforms for us to upgrade the infrastructure in Perth, that will be necessary for the operation of these submarines. I expect we will see … lease arrangements or greater joint operations between our navies in the future that sees our sailors working more closely and indeed, potentially on UK and US vessels to get that skills and training and knowledge.”

Birmingham insisted there was no “quid pro quo” in Australia agreeing to step up its strategic relationship with the United Kingdom and the United States.

He insisted nuclear weapons would not be based within Australia’s jurisdiction.

“We’ve been clear, Australia’s position in relation to nuclear weapons does not change, will not change,” he said on Sunday.

“We will meet all of our non-proliferation treaty arrangements and obligations and not be changing any of our policies in relation to the nuclear weapons technology.”

“The changes to the strategic nature of competition in the region. The changes to the challenges of the operational capabilities of conventionally powered submarines and the reasons we’ve been looking at the nuclear-powered submarine alternative are because of those different changes.

“This has been very sensitive to get to this point in time. We don’t underestimate the importance now of working with the French in the future around their engagement across the region and ensuring that we re-establish those strong ties with the French government and counterparts long into the future. Because their ongoing engagement in this region is important, alongside these decisions that we’ve made.”

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