Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines with US and UK tech
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has opted to use nuclear-powered submarines. On September 15, 2021, the United States, Britain, and Australia announced a new defense cooperation agreement called the "AUKUS" alliance, which includes helping Australia build its own fleet of nuclear boats armed with conventional weapons.
The RAN has operated submarines for over a century, ever since HMAS AE1 was commissioned in 1914, but, until now, these have all been diesel boats. Currently, the Navy runs six Collins class, which were built in Australia, with the first entering service in 1996.
These submarines are now reaching the end of their service life beginning in 2026 and since 2016 the Australian government had planned to replace them with a French design. However, yesterday's announcement has dramatically broken with this policy.
The details of the program to provide the RAN with nuclear-powered submarines are slim because it's still in its infancy, though some details have been released. According to the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the boats will be built at Adelaide, South Australia, with the assistance of the US and UK. In a news report, Janes has claimed that eight submarines will be built.
The AUKUS partners emphasize that, though the new submarines will be powered by nuclear reactors, they will only carry conventional weapons. Mr. Morrison says that Australia will not obtain nuclear weapons, will not be constructing civilian nuclear reactors, and that the country will abide by its nuclear non-proliferation commitments.
The decision to go nuclear is likely prompted by concerns about China's increasing attempts to assert control over the region as well as growing political instability, terrorist threats, and organized crime. To counter this, Australia requires a submarine fleet that is faster, with much longer reach, and less reliance on shore facilities. Modern nuclear submarines never need refueling during their lifetimes and the only limit on how long they can remain submerged and on patrol is the amount of food they can carry for their crews, usually about 90 days.
The AUKUS agreement is also historic because it marks the first time that the United States has agreed to share nuclear propulsion technology since it provided Britain with the reactor for its first nuclear submarine, HMS Dreadnought, in 1958.
How much technical support Australia will receive from the US is unclear because, though it has no civilian nuclear reactors, Australia has an active nuclear physics sector and operates research reactors. In addition, Britain will be lending its expertise and already has close ties to Australia's Navy, including shared command structures and an agreement involving the procurement of up to nine Type 26 frigates.
Over the next 18 months an initial assessment of the project will be conducted and the building program will take at least a decade, including developing the infrastructure and skill sets required to support building such submarines domestically.
The video below is the joint announcement of the AKUS agreement.
Source: UK Government