At least the plan to develop 12 Attack class submarines with French technology – as flawed as it was – had some chance of delivering a capability to the RAN around 2032.  The idea of now completely switching direction and aiming for nuclear propulsion supplied by either the US or the UK has set that back by 10 years.  As more details become known – or rather as the lack of detail becomes increasingly apparent – this deal is looking more like a back of a beer coaster list of ideas compiled by some senior political advisors rather than a coherent plan.

With a startling change of direction, Australia has managed to enrage France, with unknown long term diplomatic and trade repercussions.  This goes on top of earlier efforts that similarly enraged Japan when then Prime Minister Tony Abbott assured his counterpart in 2014 that they had the future submarine project in the bag.  At least the Japanese were put out of their misery in about one year, unlike the five years of effort put in by Paris and Cherbourg.  Having said that, Naval Group has been paid a lot of money – with even more to come – so their hurt feelings have already been generously compensated for by rivers of Australian cash.

To the list of countries offended by Australia regarding submarines, Sweden can be added to the list. As the designer of the Collins class and shareholder in the Australian Submarine Corporation, the Swedes were mightily annoyed in the year 2000 when Defence nationalised the company, kicking them out with the message that they were no longer welcome and that the US would step in and fix all remaining technical problems.  Of course, that never happened – and then in 2014 to add insult to injury a New Generation Collins class was absurdly excluded from the mix, mainly because a few senior bureaucrats had developed a personal dislike of dealing with Sweden.

To be in this position of changing direction again and “stabbing in the back” the French, after already doing so to the Japanese and the Swedes is a collective display of incompetence by successive governments, the Defence bureaucracy and the RAN.  If it were not so serious, this lack of process and the squandering of billions of dollars resembles a family of orangutans trying to water a garden with a high-pressure hose.

To the extent that a justification has been provided, it is that strategic circumstances have deteriorated to such an extent that nuclear powered submarines are needed to secure Australia’s security.  This is fine, with such submarines having several advantages over conventional diesel-electric boats, including range, speed and endurance.  However, the time frame for their introduction is laughable, with best case estimates being at the end of next decade.  In the meantime, Australia will only have six Collins submarines, the life extension program of which is only scheduled to begin in 2026, rather than immediately.

If the government is actually serious about having nuclear powered submarines, why not have structured a FAUSUK treaty – France, Australia, US and UK – that could have produced a nuclear powered Attack class and taken advantage of all the work done for the last five years rather than throwing everything in the rubbish bin?  In one of many ironies, the parent Barracuda class is indeed a nuclear-powered attack submarine – and an extremely good one of that, being more stealthy than counterparts from the US and UK.  Redesigning it as a conventionally powered boat was always problematic, to put it mildly.

The Attack class were already a hybrid US-French product with the combat system to be supplied by Lockheed Martin.  At its heart is the AN-BYG1 tactical data handling system that equips Virginia class attack submarines – and a great deal of work has already taken place Australianising that system, which is already also in the Collins class.  Why not extend this principle of cooperation to the submarine’s power source and replace a French nuclear reactor in the Barracuda/Attack class with one from the US or the UK?

The importance of doing so is that French naval reactors use relatively low-grade commercial uranium fuel.  This design choice means that they need to be refuelled about every ten years – a hazardous process that can only take place with the assistance of the country’s commercial nuclear industry, which does not exist in Australia.  US and UK reactors use much higher-grade fuel and have enough energy to last for the lifetime of the submarine itself – in excess of 30 years – so no refuelling is required, negating the need for local support.

One can be almost certain that this rather obvious avenue has never been explored with the French.  Ultimately France might have said no to such an arrangement – though it seems to have benefits for everyone – at which point Australia would have been perfectly entitled to have gone down the AUKUS path.  However, what has taken place is a highly secret deal designed to exclude the French and, in the process, write off more than $4 billion – and counting.

The reason why this looks like a political backroom deal is that the way forward will be studied by the bureaucracy for the next 18 months.  Here’s a strange thought: why not study the idea first before announcing it?  What happens if the study concludes that Australia does not have the infrastructure to build nuclear submarines? Or that the timetable and the level of risk are unacceptable?  If Labor is in power then, what will they do?

We were all told repeatedly that the deal with France was not about buying submarines, it was developing a sovereign industrial capability that would make Australia independent forever.  This huge effort costing billions was to replace the sovereign capability built up in the late 1980s and 90s to build and support the Collins fleet.  All of that has now been ditched and by the look of it we will try for a third time with input from the US and the UK – both countries that are extremely protectionist when it comes to their own defence sectors – to again recreate an industry.  This is beyond ridiculous.

There seems to be something particularly cursed about Australia’s floundering attempts to replace Collins.  It’s actually fairly straightforward – most other countries manage it in a smooth, transparent and seamless way.  Here we have had six years of unconscionable neglect by the Rudd-Gillard governments, followed multiple changes of direction, damage to Australia’s reputation, huge financial losses – and still no new submarines even remotely on the acquisition horizon.

This is what happens when Defence policy – particularly for submarines – becomes politicised.  If only work on a Nextgen Collins had started in 2010 when it should have the first of a new class of ultra-modern conventional submarines would be going into the water now, massively boosting our deterrent capabilities.  Australia would have had the design expertise to be working on our own nuclear submarines that, in conjunction with the US, UK and even France, could start to enter service at the start of the next decade rather than at the end of it.

Because of this mess either this government or the next one will have to look at interim solutions. Is it possible that the US would lease two or three Virginia class to us as gap fillers?  The RN only has three Astute class out of a maximum of seven to be built, so the chances of getting any of them seem less than zero.

A case can be made for a gap-filler to be provided with the purchase of German or Swedish conventional submarines given that France is now unlikely to want to have anything more to do with Australia, even if we begged.  A more imaginative approach would be to speak with South Korea about their KSS-III batch 2 submarines.  These are about the right size for Australia at 4,000 tonnes and as well as torpedo tubes have a 6-cell vertical launch missile system, making them arguably the most potent diesel-electric submarines in the world.

South Korea is also considering building nuclear submarines and discussing a way forward with them might be very worthwhile.  However, given the lack of imagination, direction, and leadership that has become the norm in Australia, don’t expect anything to happen while we thrash around trying to figure out what to do.


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Kym Bergmann is the editor for Asia Pacific Defence Reporter (APDR) and Defence Review Asia (DRA). He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism and the defence industry. After graduating with honours from the Australian National University, he joined Capital 7 television, holding several positions including foreign news editor and chief political correspondent. During that time he also wrote for Business Review Weekly, undertaking analysis of various defence matters.After two years on the staff of a federal minister, he moved to the defence industry and held senior positions in several companies, including Blohm+Voss, Thales, Celsius and Saab. In 1997 he was one of two Australians selected for the Thomson CSF 'Preparation for Senior Management' MBA course. He has also worked as a consultant for a number of companies including Raytheon, Tenix and others. He has served on the boards of Thomson Sintra Pacific and Saab Pacific.


  1. Nuclear reactors from US/UK wouldn’t fit in French Barracuda subs, they are less then half the size of Virginia class

    Japanese Soryu class subs with AIP module could be ready in 2 years and billion $ a piece, frankly it doesn’t even make sense to upgrade Collins and spend $6 billions on them when we could spend that money on assembling 6X Japanese subs for the same price in Adelaide with some Australian components since they want to scream jobs anyway

    • Reactor size is clearly an issue – and it’s one of the reasons why the Barracuda program has been delayed. However, they are 5,000 tonnes, which is still a lot of real estate to play with. They are replacing the Rubis class which are nuclear powered and are only 2,600 tonnes.

  2. With all your “experience” Mr Bergmann but none of it actually as a serving submariner (I was by the way on the Oberon submarines) and in a position as a sonar rating. We trained for the event of an encounter with another submarine, especially a”nuke.” Those scenarios always were at best for us an outcome getting in a lucky hit or hiding in the “ultra quiet state” for hours and sometimes days and slowly running your batteries flat. You could not out run them even when fully charged and you could certainly not go deeper than they could. If you fired a weapon at them and they detected it they actually had the speed to outrun it in most cases. In short Mr Bergmann your chances of surviving the encounter on a conventional boat were next to none. So why would you build a conventional submarine fleet to replace another set of conventional submarines. The decision to build the Collins class was wrong as it would have been to replace the Collins submarines with an outdated deisel electric design of any type.

    • The Oberon class were excellent submarines – in the 1960s, when they were built. By modern standards still, they were very quiet. But compared to more current SSKs, they were slow and had little endurance. Modern conventional boats with AIP systems or Lithium batteries have underwater endurances of several weeks at slow speeds instead of a few days. They are faster, too, but of course SSNs still hold an edge in that department.

      • That said, I agree it makes little sense for Australia to acquire a conventional submarine as a pure stopgap measure in ~2030 only to then switch to nuclear submarines in the 2040s. However, the time gap somehow needs to be filled, and that pretty much leaves open only the option of leasing several USN submarines in order to keep a reasonable cadre of submariners in Australian service.

        • Their surface/snorkel range was superb. I was just talking underwater endurance, in which all lead-battery non-AIP conventional subs were naturally limited and speed, in which boats of that generation with conventionally streamlimed (Type XXI-derived) hull forms were also limited.

  3. Thanks Rob – your observations are relevant and I believe you are correct that a nuclear powered submarine is best for Australia. I agree with you – my observation is that the process of getting there is so wasteful.


  5. The Morrisson’s gov have already put Australia 20 years behind with a $trillion debt ,so we get halfway through our billions of dollars subs and run out of money , these so called Christian clowns have run Australia into to the ground. At least the hillsong church got their $43million dollar grant from pentacostal Scotty. Courtesy the Australian tax payer

    • Ah yes the Atheist bigotry – remember at the 2016 Census 52% identified as Christians even though the donkey vote – probably up to 8% due to the denial of service attacks – went to the default of No Religion. If you want to talk about waster remember it was the Rudd 2009 Defence White Paper that stated the new submarines had to be conventional. Joel Fitzgibbons then defence minister has recently admitted that was a mistake so any waste is due to the Rudd government paranoia about anything nuclear.

  6. French reactors as you said require refueling every 7-10years which requires infrastructure, so not feasible/ acceptable. American reactors too large for Barracuda’s, so not feasible. Americans would not have considered giving us SSN tech in 2016 much less in 2010 and Trump too volatile [or mad] to be a partner, so not feasible.
    As much of a convoluted stuffed around process as this has been it would seem that this could ONLY have happened now and with UK, US. So even with all the ham fisted diplomacy there was no other option it seems that gives us what our navy says it must have to be able to stand up, in the decade of continual Chinese flexing, threatening and brow beating or we accept being kowtowed to their whim forever.

    • The Barracuda uses a K-15 reactor that generates 150MW; the latest of the Virginia class uses an SG-9 with 210MW; the Astute class have a PWR2 that is presumably in the same general class of power output. Whether or not an SG-9 or PWR2 would fit in a Barracuda hull is a question for a nuclear engineer because there is very little information available about space and weight requirements for either. Reactors can be made smaller or larger. One of the reasons why the Barracuda program was delayed for a couple of years is that the K-15 – two of which power the Charles De Gaulle – was found to be too large and needed some redesign to fit in the submarine hull. This would seem to be a very basic design error, but there you go.

      Bottom line: this is a topic that needs more investigation. Any nuclear engineers out there are welcome to send in more information.

      • Can’t see the US or UK providing reactor details to the French – a very very unlikely scenario… especially when the French don’t bother to recall the UK ambassador as he is already known to be operating in a hostile country.
        Fantastic work by scomo, Dutton and payne.

        • You are overlooking the French policy position that they will not sell nuclear powered platforms to other countries.

          As I understand it, even if we’d asked for a Nuclear submarine, they would not have offered it in light of this policy.

          • I’m not sure about that. I think the Naval group position has always been that they are willing to supply a nuclear powered Barracuda to Australia.

  7. Its seems clear that there are announcements yet to come. Whether its leasing submarines or increased presence of UN/ UK assets on Australian soil, something is needed to address the capability gap. Media statements indicate it will be resolved over the next 18 months however, its also in the public domain that the AUKUS deal was conceived approx. 18 months ago. Also, all of the focus is on submarines and nuclear propulsion however there are other factors to this deal, such as us now being a significant forward base for AUKUS. Its reasonable to conclude that the planned arrangements are further ahead then announced and the respective leaders are working the media cycle and their own time lines. The PM is currently flying to the USA so my 50c is on further AUKUS details announced in line with the visit.

    • Let’s hope that you are correct and that a lot of work has been done behind the scenes. However what little I am uncovering suggests that not much has been organised and even less agreed to. I would be happy to be proven wrong but just the shambles around whether or not the French were told in advance suggests to me that this is being made up by people as they go along.

  8. The first cost projection of 12 barracuda submarines and the time to get these into service was bad enough. The cost blow out got out of hand 90 billion dollars, the amount of Australian work in Adelaide reduced greatly as time went on, less Australian input and less money spent in Australia. What the Liberal Government says is NOT how things really are ! A small snippet of information is released at one time to gauge the reaction by the population. The Government is now saying we will upgrade the Collin’s class subs. They will NOT, another $10million and an unbearable time frame. All this then talks are underway to lease 4 Virginia class subs until 8 block 5 Virginia’s can be built.

    • If you have any information on talks that are underway to lease 4 Virginia class, please let me know. I can’t see the USN having any spare submarines for several years, if ever.

  9. At least if we were able to lease some nuclear powered subs it would provide Australian crews with some experience in the use of same prior to delivery of our own.

  10. would it be more feasible that any leasing deal would be more geared toward Los Angles class because of availability?
    And do you see there being any chance of us building up our independence in nuclear propulsion tech so that we might ‘next’ time round even attempt to build our own subs reactors to fulfil the whole sovereignty deal or is anything beyond hull and other sub-systems builds now just a pipe dream?

    • I’m only guessing, but that might be slightly more likely as they retire from service than a Virginia class. But they are more than 25 years old and I’m not sure what the value would be in training on an obsolete submarine – or the level of enthusiasm the US would have for putting in the level of effort needed to get the RAN up to speed. As it happens, RAN personnel have been posted to US nuclear submarines for years as regular placements, but that’s still a long way short of having entire crews at the necessary level of skill.

      Regarding a nuclear industry, that’s a matter of time, money and political will. Plenty of other comparable countries have thriving nuclear industries – Sweden, the Netherlands, South Korea, Taiwan etc.

    • Realistically, Australia will have to fill a capability gap until ~2045. At that point, the newest LA class sub will be 50 years in service. So I don’t think that’s a viable option.

      TBH, I think the whole deal about “we’ll let you guys have our nuclear propulsion tech” is eventually going to translate into “we’ll let you guys pay for and crew some of our Virginia class subs”. Pretty sure all the things that were deemed important in the previous deal (domestically maintained, built using Australian labor) but didn’t really pan out anyway are going to be quietly abandoned soon.

  11. Dear APDR , I support the purchase of the SSN , its about having a Defence capability that can deter! Isn’t it best to purchase a complete off the shelf package that has the stealth we need, the sensors we need , the weapons we need , than trying to hobble together bits.
    Australian industry will benefit from construction and that was the issue with the french proposal many promises made but not a-lot of tangibles. I keep on getting the impression that APDR is biased to European Defence industry in many of the editors comments ? As someone who has purchased the magazine for 45 years I find the key board criticism one sided.

    • Thanks Brent – when you say you support a complete off the shelf package that wouldn’t seem to leave much room for Australian industry.

      My main concern is actually about the timetable for the project. A lot of the commentary has been very positive about the alliance involving the US, UK and Australia. Far less seems to have been written about the fact that we will not receive any nuclear submarines until 2040.

  12. I agree with Kym and a lot of other people who have defended a nuclear sub for decades as the only way to have the reach necessary to intervene in the South China Sea. No government had the guts to push it through the public opinion. Scomo did that successfully in 24 h last week and it is bipartisan. It is a huge step forward. TDHS and weapons are already American.
    If the French are brought back in the alliance on the condition of the sub becoming nuclear, they may be convinced to supply the engine, the nuclear training to do the refuelling in Australia. They may even be convinced to base a nuclear sub in the Pacific to help the transition. It is their pride of not being considered a player in the Pacific with us and the US which is the issue. Bring them back in and we will get the technology from them better than out of the UK and the US. We may even save time until the first sub is operational as it would be using the Barracuda hull and propulsion as is…

  13. I want to thank you all for the opinions posted here, I feel better informed on the subject now. We all know that China got upset about the news of Australia getting nuclear subs so I see this news as “good news for Australia” since it opens the door for American and UK subs to enter our waters legally and creates a way for their armament and personnel in greater numbers close to the most likely area of future/near conflict. It is a great strategical move regardless of when and how we get to have our own subs. I hope the heads of our defense armed forces are working in close discussions with our political heads because history shows how many conflicts have gone sour when that did not happend.

  14. I have seen comments from the PM, CDF, and others that the decision was driven by Australia’s increasingly perilous strategic position in the region, but they maintain our desire for a sovereign submarine building capability. These two requirements would appear to be wildly divergent!

    • You have also noticed that internal contradiction! There’s also a disconnect between needing have a credible deterrent, but not having any new submarines for the next 20 years.

  15. France can rightly feel aggrieved by the apparent lack of comms at the political level (but what else do you expect from the Morrison Govt?), but most in the industry and keen observers knew the writing was on the wall for the SF Barracuda. Most of the foot stomping coming from Paris and Beijing is for their respective domestic audiences.

    • The French have reacted strongly, but the more that we learn of this the more amateurish the official Australian “communication” seems to have been. Dropping a few hints about unhappiness is no substitute for structured confidential discussions – especially since only 3 weeks ago Dutton and Payne signed off on a joint declaration that all was well with the project. Having said that, the reactions of France and China undoubtedly have a domestic political audience in mind as well.

  16. For the political record, the “unconscionable neglect” was bipartisan, effectively starting with Howard’s government, and who can forget (“couldn’t build a canoe”) Johnson. Knowing full-well the long lead time needed, the submarine policy directorate and force planning people in Defence were trying to stand up the FSM project in the 1990s, including concepts of an evolving design in tranches of 3 or 4 boats.

    As seems obvious now, having achieved 80% of sovereign capability with the Collins build, and all its hard lessons, we threw out the proverbial baby for political expediency.

    It is interesting to see the policy on nuclear propulsion has also been bipartisan throughout, first ‘against’, until last week, and now ‘for’.

    I fully agree the French should have been asked. The Brazilians did.

    We are collectively not very good at this.

    • I agree with your overall assessment. However, the Johnson comment was in 2014 after the change of government. In the last couple of years of the Howard government contracts were signed for 3 Air Warfare Destroyers and 2 Canberra class LHDs. Then under Labor there was a 6 year gap caused, in turn, by looting Defence to try and return the budget to surplus. I note that even Kevin Rudd has taken a shot at Wayne Swan about the foolishness of that.

  17. By the way, if a non-nuclear stopgap submarine is to be acquired – and I see the problems mentioned with nuclear ones, with all real candidates either being old or unlikely to be available for leasing – it may make sense to reapproach Japan. Japanese submarines are replaced with clockwork regularity after relatively short (20 to 22-year) service lives. The oldest Sôryû-class boats are going to leave service during the early to mid 2030s. It could make sense to acquire them, pay for a reasonable overhaul and get another 10 or so years of life out of them before the new US-designed boats arrive.

      • Sure, but I don’t see how they will have any to spare. For the interim subs needed to cover the time period from ~2030 to ~2040, yet another large-scale procurement program with new construction seems out of the question.

  18. Thanks a lot for this synthesis.
    I am wondering how the leasing of old Los Angeles, or old Trafalgar could be seen as credible temporary solution to fill this gap ?

    • The latest LA class sub was commissioned in 1995, the latest Trafalgar in 1991, making them as old or older, respectively, than even the oldest of the Collins class boats they would replace. So I don’t know if that would work.

    • There is an interesting article below which discusses the potential benefits of taking on some of the US’s Los Angeles class boats.

      It’s an interesting strategy. By extension, what’s to stop us trading in the LA’s for some older Virginia’s down the track?

      A US “hand me down” SSN approach sounds like a good way to increase deterrence quickly and train our sailors while we build our mighty nuclear Son of Collins!

      • Well, as the article states, the life of service extensions for the LA class boats are going to give them another ~10 years of service, i.e. into the mid-2030s. That does not fill the gap. More precisely, it does not fill the gap any more than simply keeping the Collins class in service for almost exactly the same time frame.

        Understandable as it may be for the RAN to get their hands on SSNs as soon as possible, I don’t think it will prove politically feasible, nor financially prudents, to lease two different classes of SSNs in succession, especially so when the Collins class SSKs could simply remain in service in lieu of one of those leases.

        That leaves the possibility of leasing some Virginia-class SSNs from the mid-2030s until some point in the 2040s when the Australian SSNs become available. Question is, will the USN have any to spare? Extending the service lives of some of the oldest in the class, which are set to be decommissioned in the late 2030s, would require refueling their reactors – something that they are not intended or designed for. I would thus assume you are looking at a fairly costly refit program.

        • I dont think it matters that LA’s might not cover the full 20 year gap. If we can get 10 years out of them thats still worth it. Perhaps the plan could be to replace them with a couple of older Virginia class for the additional period. This could all be negotiated and planned for over the next 18 months under the AUKUS arrangement. The outcome would be getting additional capability sooner and hence achieving a greater deterrence effect.

          Also to be clear, I am assuming the Collins stays and LOTE proceeds so we would have an enlarged mixed DE/Nuclear powered fleet with the additional capability.

          On the local production front, I think it important to start building a mature design under licence such as the Virginia Block V rather than anything still in the thought bubble stage. New designs are always delayed and problematic until finally sorted regardless of who builds them! We don’t have that luxury I’m afraid. If we were building Virgina Block V, then a swap over to an older Virgina class as mentioned earlier would be a great lead in for the new subs when they are ready.

          • As I said: I can understand the RAN wanting such things. But politically and financially, that is just not going to happen. And for good reason. Keeping the Collins Class in service AND leasing LA class subs AND THEN buying another stopgap after that is unfeasible.
            Keeping the Collins class in service AND increasing the fleet with leased LA class subs AND THEN reducing the fleet to zero for another 10 or so years would be insane.

  19. This is all nonsense! Australia needs these submarines, end of story. We need the speed. We need the range. We need to be able to rely on the Tech ‘Supplier/s’. Trouble is that, regardless of what anyone says, Australia just sucks at Defence Acquisition.
    Throw in a ‘little bit’ of intransigence from Labor and the Unions (same same) and the absolute idiots aka the greens, then combine the awful acquisition ‘procedures’ and THAT makes the timeframe way too loooong.
    The French record on Defence related deals and contracts over the years is simply dreadful. I won’t mention the pre-loved market (only dropped once). They could not meet our requirements, they kept upping the price AND stretched the whole thing out for years. All without resolving anything or marking a piece of steel. French supply of parts will also be an ongoing problem if history is any guide (RAAF Mirage’s).
    Nuclear power for Australian Submarine’s – No Brainer.
    Get on with it and stop treating Defence as a ‘JOB CREATION SCHEME’ for bolshie left wingers and do-gooders

    Now as for fixed-wing Naval Aviation, well that’s for another time……..

      • Unlimited range is required (we are not on a small island) … but it also overlaps with the requirement for “lengthy endurance”. Australia has a huge coastline and the question of “is there a submarine watching/waiting in this area” is the primary platform deterrent. Whether the long endurance or range capability is used to force project into a remote theatre is a policy decision for the government of the day.

        A Submarine is in essence a stealth platform, So the ability to loiter or transit for long periods undetected is important. A platform that has to surface frequently for air and to recharge batteries, can only sustain fast transit on surface or requires a tender (or regular return to port) to refuel frequently compromises this ability.

        Nuclear submarines fit the need quite well – long endurance, can transit long distances at a fast pace at depth, no need to give away position surfacing etc. As long as you have sufficient food and a functional crew everything else (oxygen, fresh water, power etc) is pretty much taken care of.

        If it weren’t for the political climate, this should have been a no-brainer decades ago.

        …. and then we can wax lyrical on the wisdom of taking a nuclear submarine design, trying to cram in a diesel electric power plant and expecting optimal platform performance.

        • I understand that, but I’m trying to square it away with the fact that the RAN has been strangely uninterested in AIP. They were offered it for the Attack class but ruled that out quite early in the piece. I also get the range / endurance equation but in the past the RAN has always indicated that they need it for patrols to the northern Pacific, not to hang around the Australian coastline.

  20. Would love to see continued development of the Collins class as a true soverign capability. If we now have 20 years to do it, and with US/UK help, maybe a nuclear Son of Collins?

      • Of course, the dream above is tongue in cheek;), it would be awesome of course, but I think not a great decision given the strategic imperatives. My view is we need to start building a MATURE design under licence such as Virgina Class Block V ASAP. We would get the capability sooner, effectively manage risk and we get productivity out of the Adelaide shipyard sooner by avoiding a deep custom design process.

        Sovereign capability is important but can be addressed by maximising local contributions to the build itself. Right now I think less important for the design to be sovereign.

  21. To bring on this capability ASAP without breaking the bank the best solution is to buy directly from the US. They are the only ones that have a high volume, ongoing build program that we can tap into.

    We could enter a work share arrangement that may see us building modules and providing components for Australian and US submarines.

    Australia really couldn’t build an entire nuclear submarine anyway, not without its own nuclear industry.

    • I’m in the process of figuring out why a nuclear powered Barracuda / Attack class has been ruled out because if we went ahead with that it would prevent the complete waste of the $4 billion spent so far, much of it on Australian companies, including a bunch of SMEs. My earlier assertion – in line with what everyone else has been saying – that you just bolt on a US or UK nuclear reactor and never touch it again is fundamentally incorrect. It turns out that you don’t have to touch the core, but a lot of other ancillary highly radioactive components have to be removed and replaced every 10 years or so, requiring a great deal of safety and security infrastructure which does not yet exist in Australia.

      • Id be interested to know that, but even if you found no practical difference between operating a Barracuda vs a US/UK boat wrt nuclear maintenance procedures, I cant see any hope of reversing the decision and restarting the French Attack/Barracuda program. The reputational damage to Australia and the associated politics would be too great. A speedy decision on what boat is going to be built and rapid transitioning of affected local companies to the new program might be the best we can do to limit the impact. As for the 4 billion…

        • It’s a huge mess and I also don’t see a way of bringing Attack / Barracuda back into the mix, unless there is a change of government and a very urgent independent high level review of the program takes place. It’s hard to have any sympathy at all for Naval Group, whose behavior towards the Australian media has been completely obnoxious.

  22. My bet is that the Collins will be the last submarine the RAN has in its fleet.
    AUKUS doesn’t actually commit either the US or the UK to providing Australia with the ability to build, equip and use nuclear subs. It merely obliges them to examine the concept.
    By the time the concept is “examined” – 2-3 years from now who’ll be PM, which party will be in Government?
    The entire idea will be dumped in favour of building facilities at which UK and US subs can be based.
    We’ve sold just a little more of our sovereignty and got nothing to show for it.
    The French deal was a dud. This one is no better.

    • I tend to agree with your pessimistic but factually accurate summary. The US Chief of Naval Operations has been quoted in Politico saying it will take “decades” to help Australia build a nuclear submarine program. He says that US industry has no space capacity to assist Australia and predicts a bureaucratic and regulatory nightmare regarding approvals for the export of relevant technology.

  23. Yes, we’ve thrown a whole lot of money at the French and now we’ll throw some money at the US and the UK to subsidise their submarines builds and in 3 decades all we’ll have is somewhere where they can base their boats IF they choose to.
    It’s a farce.

  24. Do we realistically have a Plan C if for what ever reason the AUKUS sub deal fails to deliver.
    I feel the French option is done.
    Son of Collins is probably to late to start.
    The Japanese would be guarded to help re the SEA 1000 selection promise.
    I don’t know if the Swedes like us any more.

    South Korea or Germany maybe ??


    • Yes, it’s all a total mess. Speaking with the South Koreans would be worthwhile – they are far more likely to be interested in the deal than the Japanese were. Or to put it more correctly, the Japanese government was interested but Japanese industry – Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – was not.

      I think the only way to fix this is for someone to actually ask the RAN to review their range/endurance requirements. As I have written, there are plenty of choke points to Australia’s north; we have massive surveillance capabilities in JORN + access to US data; to me there is no logical reason to want submarines able to sit off Hainan island for 3 weeks. If the RAN came back and said that in the light of technological developments blah blah blah we have calculated that 18,000km / 55 days at sea are fine it would open this up to several MOTS designs that could still be in the water late this decade.

      People forget that the contract for Collins – then the most complex and capable diesel electric submarine in the world – was signed in 1987 with the first boat launched in 1993.

      It can be done if competent people and capable organisations are involved.

      • If nuclear boats are at least 20+ years away and we are faced with covering that period with the existing Collins boats, we should also start building more of these ASAP. The RAN are familiar with them as is ASC/local industry and the already underway LOTE design work could form the basis of the new build. Given the LOTE was to include significant components from the cancelled Attack class program, its incorporation could be viewed as an important salvaging of that work rather than the complete waste it appears at the moment…

        The last thing we want to do is become transfixed by the long term nuclear strategy and do nothing to improve capability in the medium term. We already have a hard won, sovereign capability in the Collins, we have started planning a new design via the LOTE process and by building more would be a good risk mitigation strategy should the proposed nuclear program encounter problems or be otherwise delayed.

        • I certainly agree that is worth considering. Anything that helps fill the gap should be urgently evaluated. However, the bad news is that my sources tell me that the government for reasons unknown is absolutely adamant that they will NOT allow Defence to examine any interim solutions. At the same time, the RAN is equally determined that they will not bring forward the start of the LOTE from 2026. Rather than display any sense of urgency, the official position is that the work has been scheduled to begin in 2026 for quite some time and it would be inconvenient to bring it forward.

          There is a complete disconnect between the dire warnings about the rate of growth of the PLA(N) and the actions of Australia. Either the warnings are complete fabrications or our defence planning is utterly negligent.

          • Hmmm, looks like Dutton has all our eggs in the AUKUS nuclear basket.

            Can only hope they have an eye on an interim solution as well and not just one desirable, but risky one that wont bare fruit until at least 2040!

  25. Excellence is the enemy of good.
    I feel our nuclear submarine ambitions are a bridge too far for a nation of our size.
    A good conventional submarine has its place in a balanced ADF to meet our broad range of needs.
    Investing too much on a niche capability such as a SSN may financially unbalance other defence projects going forward.
    Too many layers of concern with this project.


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