More comment on the Australian submarine deal

Posted: 20th September 2021

The UK’s new security agreement with the US and Australia will make it
safer and could create hundreds of new jobs, the new foreign secretary has
said. The pact, known as Aukus, will see Australia being given the
technology to build nuclear-powered submarines. Liz Truss said it showed
the UK’s readiness to be “hard-headed” in defending its interests. But
France, whose own submarine deal with Australia was thwarted as a result,
has criticised the agreement.

 BBC 19th Sept 2021

 Telegraph 19th Sept 2021

 Australia’s decision to abandon the $ 90 billion agreement with France
on 12 diesel submarines and instead choose to build a nuclear ship with the
United Kingdom and the United States is a picture for geopolitics in the
Asia-Pacific and the global defense industry. It’s a epoch-making moment.
The new submarine is far more capable than the originally planned fleet and
could represent great success for contractors in the British and American
defense industries. The main difference between the new submarines proposed
to be made in France is the propulsion technology they use. The ship from
France was based on the Barracuda class of nuclear power in that country
and had to charge the electric motor with a diesel engine. One of the
advantages is that diesel electric submarines tend to be smaller and can
operate quietly by turning off the diesel motor and relying on battery
power. However, the disadvantage is that the boat needs to surface
regularly to run the diesel engine so that the battery can be recharged.
This is an operation called “sniffing”. Nuclear submarines, on the
other hand, are made for durability. They include nuclear reactors that
power electric motors and generate electricity to drive propellers.
Alternatively, the heat from the nuclear reactor is used to generate steam
that spins the turbine.

 FT 19th Sept 2021

 The UK and US have announced they will support Australia in development of
a nuclear submarine fleet and will provide (conventionally armed) Tomahawk
cruise missiles. This is one of those exceedingly rare and exceedingly
significant announcements that come along only every decade or so. The
announcement literally turns existing precedence and practice on their
heads in order to extend traditionally northern hemisphere cooperation to
Australia and bolster its role in countering an increasingly assertive
China. While much is not yet known, some of the ramifications and
implications of this development are discernable. The first obvious
implication from the announcement is, in fact, its undercutting of France.
A second implication is for the nonproliferation regime itself. Much like
the announcement of the US-India deal, AUKUS is already dividing the
international security community. Many nonproliferation practitioners call
foul, on the basis that, on the face of it, the announcement appears to cut
across several norms, agreed rules, and accepted practices. The cooperation
may be used by non-nuclear weapons states as more ammunition in support of
a narrative that the weapons states lack good faith in their commitments to
disarmament. A third implication involves precedence. There has been
constraint in terms of naval nuclear reactor exports for many decades.
However, several countries have been working to acquire naval nuclear
reactors. Brazil is perhaps the first country that comes to mind. It will
be argued by many that AUKUS reaffirms Brazil’s legitimacy in pursuing
nuclear-powered submarines. The reality is that Brazil was moving forward
with its program regardless of what nonproliferation practitioners had to
say, so this may not be the most significant precedence. Finally, the
announcement is likely to have particular significance for the UK’s
nuclear program. The UK is struggling through a number of issues related to
the revamping of its nuclear enterprise by replacing its submarines,
missiles, and warheads. The program is beset with uncertainty about the
future basing of the submarines, given the possibility of a Scottish move
toward independence. And the program is struggling to keep its key
industrial player alive. Rolls Royce, which manufactures the UK’s
submarine reactors, also is a leading producer of aircraft engines and was
heavily hit by the decline in air traffic caused by COVID. It is unclear
how many of these challenges the UK hopes AUKUS can address, but the
British government is almost certainly thinking about it as a means to
bolster Rolls Royce. The United States by law and by practice is
particularly protective of its reactor technology. As such, the prospect of
an independently designed UK reactor being sold to Australia could check a
number of boxes.

 Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 17th Sept 2021

 Only once in its history has America handed over a nuclear submarine
propulsion plant, the crown jewels of military technology, to another
country. That was 63 years ago when America helped the Royal Navy to go
nuclear. Now it will take that dramatic step again. A new trilateral
defence pact, aukus, announced on September 15th, will involve far-reaching
defence co-operation between America, Australia and Britain.

 Economist 17th Sept 2021

 France has labelled Britain an American “vassal” and denounced
Australia for “treason” over its decision to cancel a €56 billion
deal to buy 12 French diesel-electric submarines.

 Times 19th sept 2021

 The possibility of a submarine deal with Australia came at an opportune
moment. It provided Biden with a chance to demonstrate support for a close
ally and boost its military strength. For Boris Johnson it could show that
relations with the US had not fallen apart because of the chaotic
Afghanistan withdrawal, and it validated claims that the UK can play a
prominent security role in the Indo-Pacific region. For Australians it
provides reassurance that it is still backed by its oldest allies. Having
abandoned a “forever war”, the US and UK have signed up to what the
Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, has described as a “forever
partnership”. The test will lie in this submarine project being more
successful than the French-backed one it has replaced. This is not
something that can be taken for granted. The big questions about the
boats’ design and manufacture will not be answered until 2023. The value
of the contract will be massive, and we should expect the competing claims
of all three partners to be pressed hard when they are deciding their
contributions. Instead of building diesel-powered submarines with the
French, Australia upgraded its requirement to nuclear-powered submarines.
These are quieter, can spend more time at sea and can travel greater
distances, but they are fiendishly difficult to construct. Although the
UK’s Astute-class programme is now running reasonably smoothly, with each
boat costing almost £1.5 billion, the first vessel was almost five years
late and massively over budget.

 Times 19th Sept 2021

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