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Growing signs Australia’s new nuclear submarine will be British design

Breaking Defense , (Sponsored by Northrop Grumman) By   COLIN CLARK and TIM MARTIN February 10, 2023 

SYDNEY and BELFAST — With the formal announcement of Australia’s path to obtain nuclear attack submarines expected to happen in Washington next month, speculation about the likely solution AUKUS is beginning to leak out.

The most intriguing hints center on a British boat — but not the Astute-class — based in part on rare public comments by Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles and his British counterpart, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace……………………………………

From the first announcement of the AUKUS effort, Australia has said it intends to build boats at home. However, developing the nuclear expertise from a tiny pool of a few dozen individuals to potentially thousands of people will take time, as will development of the highly skilled welders and other technical experts needed to build and maintain nuclear powered boats. Developing a new design and building a new shipyard to produce it seems unrealistic, given the lack of domestic expertise — especially if the goal is to deploy nuclear attack submarines before the conventionally powered Collins-class attack subs are retired.

That has prompted talk of America supplying Australia with refitted Los Angeles-class boats or providing Virginia-class boats that would be crewed by Australians, but both options pose many obstacles. America doesn’t seem able to build nuclear attack boats quickly enough to meet its stated requirement of 66, which prompted two top defense lawmakers in the Senate to caution President Joe Biden against committing the US to supplying Australia with nuclear boats.

Given the concerns about personnel and Marles’ comments, there is reason to think Britain’s next-generation sub, which will require a much smaller crew than do any of the American boats are in play……………….

“Among the ‘straws in the wind’ are the UK’s ambitions to rebuild its own submarine fleet. The Royal Navy would like to see a rise from the planned seven Astute-class attack submarines to perhaps 12 boats in the long term.

In a speech in December 2022, the UK chief of the defence staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, said of AUKUS that ‘if we have the courage to do this properly’ it could help grow the UK’s own submarine numbers in the decades to come, clearly assisted in part by potential economies of scale under AUKUS.”

Jonathan Mead

Back in November 2021, the man who led the day-today work on the AUKUS boats in Australia, Vice Adm. Jonathan Mead, told an Australian Senate committee that his country intended to select a “mature design” for its nuclear submarine. “It is our intention,” Mead said then, “that when we start the build program, the design will be mature and there will be a production run already in existence.” That would appear to make the British offering a candidate…………………

Sidharth Kaushal, a sea power expert at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, told Breaking Defense: 

“The point of friction that introduces with the UK [revolves around] the Australians operating with the US Navy primarily in the Indo-Pacific and their preference for things like prompt strike capabilities, including cruise missiles and potentially hypersonic missiles. The [US Navy] Virginia-class payload module can host those weapons but the [Royal Navy’s] Astute-class can torpedo launch cruise missiles but doesn’t necessarily offer prompt strike capabilities.” 

All seven Astute-class submarines are due to be in service with the Royal Navy by 2026, each with a life cycle of 25 years. …………….

“There’s much more work to be done when you look at areas of joint production…but for the initial project of delivering a new Australian submarine there’s going to be some compromises,” Kaushal said. “For the US, this works out quite nicely but their big challenge of course remains, that their production lines are struggling to meet US Navy requirements.”

Should the Virginia-class be selected for the Australian requirement, the US would also benefit from new basing facilities for the future submarines, he added. 

“It would effectively give the US an additional SSN base separate to Guam, which is of course an inherently vulnerable location and will be more so going forward,” Kaushal explained. 

Operationally, how the future Australian submarines operate in the Indo-Pacific looks to be particularly difficult to assess in light of China formidable ASW capabilities, like Type 56 Corvettes and Y-8 maritime patrol aircraft, combined with the often shallow waters of the South China Sea which can make nuclear submarine missions more difficult. 

“China is investing in a pretty substantial sensor network in the South China Sea that includes under sea hydrophones, large unmanned underwater vehicles all linked up to artificial islands they have built,” Kaushal said. ……………………………….


February 11, 2023 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA, weapons and war

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