Will RAN hire nuclear powered submarines?
There is a lot that we do not yet know about how we are going to acquire our new submarines. Even the Government and Defense do not know it, which is why they have launched a working group, led by Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead, to consider the way forward, reporting in about 18 months.
There appear to be only two competitors – the American Virginia-class SSN and the British Astute-class SSN, both in service and in current production.
Astutes, seven are planned, including four in service and two under construction. Number one boat, the HMS Clever, was established in 2001 with the last, the HMS Azincourt, commissioned in 2026.
Of the Virginias, 66 are planned, including 19 completed and 11 under construction. The first ship, USS Virginia, was set in 1999. No date has been set for the last one, but, assuming this does happen and the current production schedule is maintained, it is likely to be in the late 2030s with a duration useful life until the 2060s.
At first glance, the Virginias seem the best boat for Australia, with live production in the days when Australia draws its line and a significant similarity of the combat system and weapons to the Collins boats.
On the other hand, Astute’s Thales and Atlas sensors have important points in common with Collins.
Both are larger submarines than the previous ones – Astute weighs 7,700 tonnes submerged and Virginia 8,700 tonnes submerged – compared to 3,300 tonnes for a Collins submerged and around 5,000 tonnes for the Attack class which will never be.
Neither is cheap. The target for the Virginia was $ 2 billion per boat, compared to $ 3.5 billion for her predecessor, the Seawolf-class, which was canceled after just three. The last of the Astutes, according to a report by the UK audit office, costs around £ 1.64 billion.
Which brings us to a recently discussed issue – leasing. Defense Minister Peter Dutton admitted on September 21 that he was ready to rent, which is not a new idea.
Here is analyst Professor Ross Babbage in an article published by the Kokoda Foundation in 2011:
“A variation of this Standard Military Approach (MOTS) with yet other potential benefits would be to enter into a long-term lease agreement with the USN whereby RAN simply operated ten or twelve Virginia ships for a specified number of years. . (say 25) with the USN contracted to provide all or most of the logistical support within its own supply system.
The big question is, will this approach get Australian submariners into nuclear submarines a decade or more before they wait for Australian-made ships?
With AUKUS, the UK reports that Britain will base some of its Astute-class nuclear attack submarines in Australia as part of the deal to ensure a continued presence in the Indo-Pacific.
The Times newspaper cited anonymous UK government sources as saying that AUKUS has opened up basic opportunities in Australia which could include in-depth maintenance, so the boats did not need to return to their home ports. in Faslane, Scotland, for maintenance.
This is still a long way off, the Times report claiming it would happen once Australia started building a fleet of nuclear ships.
The report seems to indicate that this would be more akin to extended down deployments, rather than a permanent base of RN boats and their crews in Australia.
It surely follows that this applies equally to American submarines, which currently only make occasional port visits.
Yet even with Australia’s new submarine two decades away, the decision to go nuclear may have already produced results by spurring the study of nuclear engineering.
The University of NSW, which launched Australia’s only nuclear engineering program in 2014, announced a $ 1 million donation from the Sir William Tyree Foundation to support the studies of 20 domestic students for a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at UNSW.
Defense will certainly need engineers with nuclear qualifications for its new submarines.
But the Sir William Tyree Foundation, named after New Zealand engineer and industrialist William Tyree (1921-2013), sees Australia switch to nuclear power.
“This giveaway builds on the foundation laid to develop a high-tech nuclear industry in Australia which will be essential if we choose to embrace nuclear power as one of the options available to our country in the face of climate change,” said said Robyn Fennell. , daughter of Tyree and president of the foundation.
The government, of course, has ruled out any transition to national nuclear power. But then again, until the Prime Minister’s announcement on September 16, successive governments had also excluded nuclear-powered submarines.