Australia hopes to run second-hand US subs for at least 20 years

The Australian Navy hopes to operate the Virginia-class submarines it will receive from the US for at least 20 years. The first two submarines of this class will be transferred from the US Navy inventory to the Royal Australian Navy [RAN]. I.e. these will be second-hand submarines. Australia will also get a third submarine, but it will be new and coming off the production line.

Australia hopes to run second-hand US subs for at least 20 years
Photo credit: Hill

None other than Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead, who is the head of Australia’s nuclear submarine task force, expressed this opinion. It did, however, open the door to some unknowns that remained hidden from the general public, namely which Virginia-class blocks Australia would want from the US. According to Mead, Australia is interested in Virginia Blocks III or IV.

The US currently has eight Block III Virginia-class submarines and three already in-service Block IV submarines. Washington plans to build a total of 10 boats of this class, and in addition to these three, two more have already been launched. It is this class that could prove critical to US defense capabilities if Australia decides to opt for the two submarines from here, as Washington will be left with one operationally ready submarine.

Many differences

Mead presented all of this information during a hearing before the Australian Senate but remained silent on topics that would be classified as confidential. Even according to experts, Australia and the US may agree to remain silent about which two boats from which two Blocks will be transferred to Canberra.

Australia remains without submarines. What is happening?
Photo credit: ABC

These are the clear things that Mead decided to tell the Senate. However, there are also unclear things that worry the general public. For example – until now, both the US and Australia believed that the Virginia-class submarines should ensure Australia’s capability once it decommissioned its Collins-class fleet and the eight AUKUS-class submarines were built. Yes but no.

According to Mead, Australia will have eight nuclear submarines, “three of which will be the Virginia class”. This means that Australia will not build eight AUKUS-class submarines, but five. For now, until another claim emerges. And it appeared.

Australia hopes to run second-hand US subs for at least 20 years
Photo credit: USN

According to sources, if Australia cannot build its AUKUS-class submarines, and if planning shows that they cannot become operationally ready by 2050, the US will sell more Virginia-class submarines to Australia. I.e. It is not at all clear how many AUKUS-class submarines Australia will build. A seemingly excellent deal for the local economy is gradually being squeezed through the fingers of the Australian government.

Australia hopes to run second-hand US subs for at least 20 years
Photo credit: USN

Such a possibility clearly exists, because not all decisions can be made right now, by the current government. It was Mead who emphasized the same – how many submarines will be supplied by the US and how many will be built in Australia is a decision that future governments will have to make.

The 2021 cancellation recalls that Australia canceled 2021 the agreement with France for the construction of submarines worth 40 billion USD, one of the reasons being Australia’s desire to produce parts, components, and configurations for them. However, now, after the statements before the Senate, it is entirely possible that this will not happen in the new AUKUS agreement.

Among the general public, the AUKUS alliance began to be called NATO ver.2.0. Even earlier this year, there was a proposal from Britain that India and Japan join this AUKUS alliance, taking into account the rapidly growing fleet of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy.

Chinese statement

This proposal came from Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the British Parliament’s defense committee. The agreement, which aims to enable Australia to build a nuclear submarine fleet with the transfer of technology from the US and the UK, was signed on 16 September 2021. Although China was not mentioned in the agreement, the three countries’ emphasis on “growing regional security concerns’ has led to comments that the cooperation is a pact aimed at balancing Beijing’s military power in the region.

Beijing doesn't rule out a military scenario for Taiwan's accession to China
Photo credit: CNN

China reacted to the agreement by stressing that the alliance would harm regional peace and stability as well as international non-proliferation efforts.

The Beijing administration drew attention to the transfer of nuclear technology and materials to non-nuclear-weapon Australia and demanded that it be inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] under the nuclear proliferation regime.


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