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 read more »
Telegraph 19th Sept 2021 read more »
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 read more »
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 read more »
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 read more »
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 read more »
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 read more »