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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Australia to Get Nuclear-Powered Submarines? Maybe Not So Quickly

Australia’s announcement that it would build nuclear-powered submarines with the assistance of the United States and Great Britain drew widespread attention, and the three allies agreed that they would spend the next 18 months ironing out the details of a security collaboration that Vice President Biden hailed as “historic.”

Now that they’ve been working on the plan for a month, the partners are discreetly figuring out how to deal with the proposal’s enormous complications. Even proponents acknowledge that the obstacles are tremendous. Skeptics claim that these are insurmountable obstacles.

Australien Prime Minister Scott Morrison has laid out an ambitious vision, stating that at least eight nuclear-powered submarines, using American or British technology, will be built in Australia and deployed in the water starting in the late 2030s, replacing the country’s fleet of six ageing diesel-powered submarines currently on the water.

Australian nuclear-powered submarines provide a potent method of containing China’s expanding naval reach while also providing an escape route from a troubled arrangement with a French company to construct diesel-powered submarines, which is now in jeopardy. The proposal conveys support for a distressed friend while also demonstrating that the Biden administration is serious about opposing Chinese strength. After the turmoil of Brexit, the strategy might help to restore Britain’s worldwide prestige as well as its military sector.

Although critics say the initiative is doomed, the Rubik’s Cube of interlocking complications that has engulfed it has the potential to delay delivery of the submarines, or even to sever the entire endeavour altogether, leaving a dangerous gap in Australia’s defences and calling into question the partnership’s ability to live up to its security commitments.

According to Rex Patrick, an independent member of the Australian Senate who served as a submariner in the Australian Navy for a decade, “we’re on a perilous road right now.”

During an interview, Mr. Patrick said that “national security is at risk.” Australian officials have expressed concern over the extended wait for a new submarine fleet, saying the country runs the danger of “buying a parachute for after the flight has crashed.”

Australia will need to make significant strides forward in order to carry out the strategy. This country only has a small industrial base and hasn’t developed a submarine in for over two decades. Every year, a small number of nuclear engineering graduates are produced. Its expenditure on scientific research as a proportion of its total economic output has fallen below the average for affluent countries. Its last two proposals to construct submarines were shelved before they could be implemented.

The United States and the United Kingdom are also up against roadblocks when it comes to increasing manufacturing of submarines and their high-precision components for Australia, as well as transferring specialist labour to South Australia, where, according to Mr. Morrison, the boats will be constructed. Submarine construction for the United States and United Kingdom navy is ramping up, with monstrous boats capable of transporting nuclear weapons on their respective construction timelines.

Officials participating in the negotiations claimed that American officials have already spent hundreds of hours in discussions with their Australian counterparts and are well aware of the difficulties ahead. Deputy Prime Minister Scott Morrison “has said that this is a high-risk initiative; he was open when he launched it,” Greg Moriarty, secretary of the Australian Department of Defense, said this week before a Senate committee.

Failure or significant delays would have consequences far beyond Australia. For the Biden administration, strengthening Australia’s military is critical to establishing American credibility in the region as part of a “integrated deterrence” strategy that will bring the United States closer to its friends while countering Chinese aggression.

After more than a decade of disasters in its submarine modernization efforts, Australia is looking for a turnabout in its fortunes this time around. Mr. Morrison’s idea for French-designed diesel submarines, which he later abandoned, had come about as a result of an agreement for Japanese-designed submarines, which a predecessor had championed.

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