The more that is known about the circumstances leading up to the September 16 announcement that Australia will acquire nuclear powered submarines the clearer it is that this was a high-level political decision. There is nothing wrong with that, but this one seems to be almost completely lacking in substance with Defence having to simultaneously wrap up existing contracts with Naval Group and Lockheed Martin while also starting work on how to go down the nuclear path.
According to the British media, the first indication that Australia was up to something was when our Chief of Navy VADM Noonan invited his UK counterpart First Sea Lord Sir Tony Radakin for a chat at the London High Commission in March. Without any forewarning or preparation, the Australian asked whether the UK and the US would be prepared to help Australia develop a fleet of nuclear submarines to better counter the growing threat of China.
The First Sea Lord apparently passed the buck to Sir Stephen Lovegrove, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence who then set up ‘Operation Hookless’ – a Top Secret effort to bring the Biden Administration on board and which involved a very small number of people. It appears that the UK negotiated with Washington on Australia’s behalf – which sounds a bit colonial and fits other parts of the narrative.
Meanwhile in Australia, the handful of people who knew about the deal kept the information to themselves and the impending move to completely scrap SEA 1000 and kick out the French was kept secret. Several sources have indicated that most of Defence – and all CASG, including the Attack class team – only knew what was happening the night before the announcement. Another part of the arrangement was that Australia was given the job of gently and tactfully explaining this to the French – and we can see how well that went.