The Australian nuclear submarine project, assisted by the US and the UK under the AUKUS agreement, is believed to be in a crucial phase of negotiations. A new landmark agreement is in the works to augment the training of Australian naval submariners on nuke submarines.
Under the AUKUS Agreement, Australian naval personnel will be permitted to train for the first time inside British nuclear-powered submarines to ensure that they are ready for the eventual deployment of the highly sought-after technology, The Times reported.
Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles and UK Secretary of State Ben Wallace are scheduled to make the historic announcement on September 1 in the English port city of Barrow-in-Furness. The AUKUS Agreement was signed between the UK, the US, and Australia a year ago in September last year.
At its shipbuilding yards in Barrow-in-Furness, the British defense contractor BAE Systems is currently building a fleet of nuclear-powered Astute-class submarines for the UK Navy and a fleet of Dreadnought-class ballistic-missile submarines.
“The idea of Australian crew working with either British or American crews to get experience on British or American vessels in the shorter term is what we are seeking to do,” Defense Minister Marles said in an interview.
On his first visit to the UK since his party came to power in May, the Defense Minister also iterated that “Having the opportunity for Australian submariners to gain experience on the submarines of either the United States or the United Kingdom is going to be fundamental.”
Marles made the revelation even as US Congress was also discussing a bill called the “Australia-US Submarine Officer Pipeline Act” that would allow Australian submariners to train alongside their American counterparts and participate in missions on nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines of the US Navy.
If the bill is passed, it would require the selection of two Australian submarine officers annually to train with the US Navy and attend the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion School.
Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead, commander of the Royal Australian Navy’s nuclear-powered submarine task force, told The Strategist that Australian co-crew members would probably be a part of an interim submarine capability.
When the first submarine is launched in South Australia, the goal is to have the crew trained, the industrial base ready to maintain it, and the regulatory system set up.
Acquisition Of A Nuclear Sub To Close Capability Gap
Marles stated that the administration was discussing options for accelerating the delivery of nuclear-powered submarines with the US and the UK.
“I mean, the former government left us with a situation of not having a prospective boat in the water until the 2040s.
“This is a long way into the future, and we are trying to examine, with both the United Kingdom and the United States, whether there is any way in which we can get that date brought forward and to the extent that there is any capability gap that arises as a result of whenever that date is, ways in which we can fill that capability,” said Marles.
It is pertinent to note that the former Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton disclosed in June that he had devised a plan before the election to acquire two Virginia-class submarines from the United States by 2030, claiming he had made a judgment that the Americans would have done precisely that.
As the defense minister, he claimed it “became evident” that US submarines were the better choice. Australia has long been thought to be expected to purchase either British Astute-class or US Virginia-class submarines.
However, the elected Labor Government responded angrily to the former Minister’s remarks. In light of Peter Dutton’s announcement that he intended to purchase US nuclear submarines to fill an upcoming capability gap, Labor charged him with engaging in “rank politics” and undermining the AUKUS Agreement.
In November 2021, Australia inked a nuclear submarine technology-sharing deal with the United States and the United Kingdom as part of the AUKUS defense agreement. Australia is only the second country after the United Kingdom to secure a transfer of nuclear propulsion technology from the US.
This morning I met with UK High Commissioner Victoria Treadell and US Chargé d’Affaires Michael Goldman to sign the AUKUS Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement. This Agreement formalises Australian access to highly sensitive nuclear submarine technology. pic.twitter.com/UtKYRl6PwS
— Peter Dutton (@PeterDutton_MP) November 22, 2021
The AUKUS partners are currently working on an 18-month study phase to evaluate the needs of Canberra’s nuclear submarine project. In March, Canberra announced that the project for acquiring nuclear propulsion technology had entered its first phase.
There is considerable conjecture that the submarine will be built abroad or purchased from one of the two AUKUS partners. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) is now experiencing growing danger from China in the Pacific. Whichever submarine the RAN ultimately settles for, training on one of them or both is a giant leap forward.