Australia to get nuclear subs in historic US, UK security alliance

Australia to get nuclear subs in historic US, UK security alliance. By Ben Packham.

At last! That stupid contract to buy those lame battery-powered French subs has been cancelled, and Australia will get either US or UK nuclear submarines instead.

Australia will acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines in a once-in-a-generation decision that will deliver the nation unprecedented strike capability and require a significant boost to Defence spending.

The new nuclear boats will be delivered under a historic Defence technology partnership between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom — called AUKUS — to meet rising Chinese strategic threats.

Government sources said the decision was made because there was “no pathway” to a nuclear-powered boat when the French submarines were ordered in 2016, and that strategic circumstances had significantly worsened in the five years since.

They said reactor technology had also changed, enabling Australia to operate nuclear-powered boats without having to service their sealed reactors over the submarine’s lifetime.

Mr Morrison said the new fleet of nuclear submarines would be built in Adelaide and provided an assurance that Australia was “not seeking to establish nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability.”

“We will continue to meet all of our nuclear non-proliferation obligations,” he said.

Australia will become the first nation without a domestic nuclear industry to obtain nuclear-powered submarines, which are stealthier, faster and more maneuverable than conventional boats, with a virtually unlimited range, and the ability to stay submerged far longer.  …

Australia will also gain access to US missile technology under the deal, accelerating plans for a domestic guided weapons industry, while a range of US-made missiles will also be obtained including Tomahawk cruise missiles for Australia’s Hobart-class destroyers.

The Prime Minister told a furious French President Emmanuel Macron of the decision on Wednesday night. “To say he was disappointed was an understatement,” senior government sources said. … Australia had sunk $2.4 billion into the Attack-class program, and will have to pay further costs estimated in the “hundreds of millions”.

The government, working with its allies, will determine over the next 18 months which nuclear-powered submarine Australia will buy — the United States’ Virginia-class fast-attack boat, or the UK’s Astute-class sub.

The Pentagon said the US would help Australia “identify pathways” to build, obtain or buy nuclear submarines. …

Government sources said the final decision could be a combination of the two submarines, but the preference was to secure a submarine design with as few modifications as possible to speed the construction phase.

Construction on the first of the submarines is due to commence in Adelaide late this decade, and be completed in the second half of the 2030s.

The delivery of the first boat is expected to be several years after what had been the scheduled 2033 delivery date for the first of the Attack-class boats.

Let’s see if the Americans will sell us a couple of boats off their production line, to get us started sooner.

Former US Ambassador Joe Hockey said the AUKUS agreement was “ANZUS 2.0”, a “real and tangible statement about the growing depth in the relationship between Australia, the US and UK” that would “reverberate around the world”.

“The US spends more on technology than the next 12 countries combined and Australia; this locks in Australia as a privileged supplier, not just on defence but intelligence and obviously space too,” he added. …

The new tripartite agreement also signals a new senior tier in the “five eyes” security arrangement between the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which emerged informally in the early 1940s during the second world war. …

Lloyd Austin said “the alignment (between Australia and the US) has never been greater than it is today, we see the same challenges and see the same sense of urgency”.

Richard Fontaine, the director of the Centre for New American Security, told The Australian the power balance in the region had been “shifting in China’s direction for years, and it’s submarine fleet is one of the reasons why”.

“It’s been seventy years since the US has been willing to share this technology, and it has said no to a number of interested countries,” he added. …

“This agreement is huge, historic, not just because of the transpacific nature but because of British involvement,” [Evan Medeiros, an expert on US-China relations at Georgetown University] said, noting the “Anglo-Saxon” dimension to the new arrangement. “In fact the UK dimension is perhaps most surprising. It ties them into our net in Asia. But this puts the UK out on a limb with China,” he added. “China might target them next. I hope London is ready for what’s coming”.

The anti-nuke stance of Labor and the Greens could cause problems:

Australia, without a domestic nuclear infrastructure, told the US it was “dedicated to go in this direction even if it takes a couple years”, a move that could fracture the Labor party, whose leadership was briefed ahead of the announcement.

Labor and the Greens strongly support the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which outlawed nuclear power in Australia, even though the nation exports around $750m worth of uranium a year.

The US revoked its obligations to New Zealand under the treaty in 1986, after the New Zealand government withdrew access rights for nuclear-powered US warships, a policy it phased out in 2012. …

Australian nuclear-powered submarines will be banned from entering New Zealand’s waters, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed. …

Joining the serious club:

Brazil and South Korea have also planned to build or acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

Australia is a maritime nation, and the nearest country of any large size to about a quarter of the world’s ocean. Pick up a globe, turn Australia to the top, and see that vast expanse of surrounding water in the Indian, Pacific, and Southern oceans. Vast. Our current diesel subs putter around at 9 km per hour, but a nuclear sub cruises at 50 km hour.

hat-tip Stephen Neil