Australia’s development of nuclear submarines with AUKUS partners is again in focus after the Anthony Albanese government finally agreed to pay a hefty amount of $835 million to the French contractor Naval Group as compensation for abandoning the submarine deal.
With a major hurdle out of the way, the Australian government may pursue nuclear submarine development with renewed vigor. Bringing potential cheer to the UK, an Australian defense official told Express in an exclusive interview that the AUKUS agreement will potentially benefit Rolls-Royce, the United Kingdom-based engine manufacturer.
When asked if Rolls Royce would participate in building nuclear submarines, Anthony Heath, Senior Trade and Investment Director of Defence and Aerospace at Investment NSW, said, “It is highly likely they will, due to the connection with current hunter-class vessels.”
Hunter-class frigates are a new class of multi-mission frigates designed for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) by BAE Systems Australia. The MT30 gas turbine from Rolls-Royce is to be integrated into the vessel.
However, Heath stressed that “the procurement is still underway.” If Rolls Royce bags the contract for developing the engines, it will be a big win for the British Industry, which has been spreading its wings far and wide after its divorce from the European Union.
These remarks also become significant in the wake of the former Australian Defense Minister’s controversial article in The Australian.
The ex-minister recently revealed that his government had planned to buy the American Virginia-class nuclear submarines by 2030 and build eight more vessels, bringing the fleet’s total strength to ten.
Dutton stated that Australia planned to purchase two US submarines “this decade” to avoid a gap in replacing Australia’s aging fleet of six Collins-class submarines, with another eight US submarines under development in South Australia as part of the scheme.
According to him, this idea would eliminate the need to wait until 2038 for the first US-designed submarines to be built in Australia. To “honor and respect” the British side, Dutton stated he would have ordered more Hunter-class frigates or other defense equipment from Britain, as previously noted by EurAsian Times.
While the controversial remarks were condemned by the Australian government and dismissed as Dutton’s “rank politics,” it has the potential to raise eyebrows in the UK. Experts say that Australia could buy British Astute-class or US Virginia-class submarines.
Further, the choice of strategic partner (the US or the UK) for buying the submarine would also mean a better integration in the Southern Pacific Region for the chosen partner.
High Prospects For British Engines?
Australia, the UK, and the US inked the AUKUS treaty in September 2021 amid rising tensions between the West and nuclear-armed China, which has progressively gained ground in the Pacific, Australia’s traditional sphere of influence.
Canberra announced in March this year that the first phase of a program to acquire nuclear propulsion technology had begun. With this, it is only the second country after the United Kingdom to get nuclear propulsion technology from the United States.
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
UK-based Rolls Royce engines power the nuclear submarines of the Royal Navy.
“We’re responsible for delivering the Nuclear Steam Raising Plants (NSRP), plus parts of the secondary propulsion systems, to the UK Ministry of Defense. We also manage these assets across their full lifecycle”, says the website of Rolls Royce.
It provides frontline support for Royal Navy submarine reactor plant equipment worldwide from the primary Operations Centre in Derby.
The NSRP’s reactor cores, key system pipework and valves, large vessels, and electronic control systems are all designed and substantiated by Rolls Royce experts. Parts of the secondary equipment, such as turbo-generators and propulsors, are also subjected to the same scrutiny.
Speaking of the opportunity to expand ties, a spokesman for Rolls-Royce, Tom Samson, told the Sydney Morning Herald: “With AUKUS, Australia has now got a new opportunity in front of it.
“If you are going to embrace nuclear as part of your defense program, then you would be the only country that had done so and did not fully exploit a commercial, civil nuclear program. So you have the option now.”
Since the launch of HMS Valiant in 1963, Rolls Royce has powered all of the Royal Navy’s attack submarines. According to Rolls Royce, the entire submarine fleet of Royal Navy SSBNs is now fitted with the most advanced reactor cores, enabling them to operate for over 20 years without needing to be refueled.
Speaking on British-Australian ties, Heath from Invest NSW stated, “The Australia-UK defense partnership is tightly-knit, and AUKUS has sought to formalize some of the more technical aspects of that agreement, particularly as it pertains to cyber and AI.
“This close partnership has been further reinforced by recent UK Government statements concerning pursuing its Global Britain agenda and interest in looking east of Suez once again.
Therefore, the UK and Australian interests will inevitably become more closely aligned.” EurAsian Times could not independently verify if any prospect of a Rolls Royce engine was under consideration.
Currently, the Australian nuclear submarine project remains marred with several controversies including the absence of nuclear infrastructure in Australia. A clearer picture will only emerge once the Albanese government resolves the numerous issues plaguing the development of a submarine.