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AUKUS- A submarine deal that will take decades

Updated: Mar 25, 2023

Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/AP

One of Australia's biggest and most expensive defence announcements in history was made last Monday, March 13th, over a submarine deal with the UK and the US.

This story has grown beyond French President Emmanuel Macron accusing Scott Morrison of being a liar and allegedly breaking a trade deal.

Now, renowned Labour leader Paul Keating has come out claiming the deal is the “worst international decision by an Australian Labour government”. While Chinese officials have treated this as an act of hostility saying Australia is embarking on a “path of danger and terror”.

So why are nuclear-powered submarines such a big deal?

When the trilateral partnership was announced on the 15th of September 2022, the logistics of the deal weren’t yet outlined. It was only this week in San Diego where Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minter Rishi Sunak announced the formal plans.

Projected to cost up to $368 billion, Australia will build eight nuclear-powered submarines using US technology and UK support. This marks the first time in 65 years and the second time in history the US has shared its nuclear technology.

The fleet will not be completed until the 2050s, however, the service life of Australia’s existing fleet of six Collins-class submarines will end in 2036. Australia will purchase five Virginia-class submarines from the US fleet to cover the service gap.

The fleet will begin construction in Osborne, Adelaide in 2040, increasing the amount of radioactive nuclear activity being generated on Australian shores. The reactors powering the submarines will be externally sourced from the UK or US.

If mishandled, exposure to nuclear waste can lead to potential mutative complications however when safety precautions are observed, nuclear is a high-performance, zero-emission energy source.

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles says this venture is “too big to fail”. Submarines are only detectable by short-range sonars “creating more stealth” and speed. While diesel and electric-based fleets have to come from deep waters to refuel, nuclear-powered submarines can stay submerged for months.

Australia is isolated from western superpowers, residing in the east. Submarines allow the seas to be open from a strategic interest. Given the rising military and economic development of Eastern nations like China, Australia is geographically poised as a beneficial ally to the US and UK.

There has been a stir caused among the Australian public over the convoluted plan and expensive price. Questions arise over how these fleets will be funded and at what cost. Australia’s annual defence spending will increase but the majority of the cost will fall on future governments and therefore the future generation of young people.


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