Australia to use its AUKUS fleet as a peacetime intelligence tool

Defense Industry Minister, Pat Conroy, clarified this Tuesday that Australia’s role in the intense arms competition in the Indo-Pacific region is more responsive than instigative. The criticism surrounds Australia’s plan to acquire nuclear submarines. 

America's new Arizona sub harbors secrets the enemy won't like
Photo credit: Ashley Cowan / U.S. Navy

The criticism chiefly originates from China, which views the AUKUS project, a $245 billion venture with the United States and Britain to create a new category of nuclear submarines armed with conventional weapons, as a potential precursor to an arms war. 

Conroy, addressing domestic critics who decry the project’s lofty ambitions and hefty price, underlined AUKUS’s centrality to Australia’s defense in a speech delivered in Canberra. The plan is to cultivate the ability to manufacture these submarines locally by 2040. 

He declared this period of the arms race to be the largest since 1945, thus dismissing any allegations centering on Australia as a catalyst. His stance remains firm: “We’re merely reacting to it”. 

He also calmed brewing tensions, implying that war is not a foregone conclusion. He reinforced the need for Australia to invest adequately in defense, asserting that the focus should be prevention rather than response: “Our task is to prevent conflict from sparking and, more importantly, to ensure it never reaches our front doorstep.” 

In readiness, Australia has taken strategic steps to strengthen its defense. Included in these is a priority shift towards guarding the nation’s northern entrances and sea trade passages. Joint military exercises with other Southeast Asian countries have also noticeably increased this year, climaxing in the last week with the inaugural shared patrols with the Philippines in the South China Sea. 

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

Detailing the function of the nuclear-powered submarine fleet, Conroy said it will double as a peacetime intelligence tool and a weapon for striking enemy strongholds during times of war. 

In an address to reporters’ queries, Conroy emphatically stated Australia’s defense strategy: “Defending Australia isn’t just about barricading Karratha or Darwin; it’s about keeping potential adversaries at a safe distance and intimidating their assets as far away from our homeland as possible.” 

Given that Australia boasts Earth’s third-largest exclusive economic zone and that thousands of kilometers separate the diesel-electric Collins-class submarines’ current location from their patrol area, Conroy underscored the inefficiency of the current fuel usage in transit. 

In comparison to diesel-electric submarines, which spend approximately half their journey moving from one patrol area to another, nuclear submarines spend only 15-20 percent of their time in transit, making them a more efficient option in terms of fuel usage, he added.

‘Banned’ by New Zealand

On September 16, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made her first public remarks about the agreement amongst Australia, Britain, and the United States to manufacture new nuclear submarines for the Royal Australian Navy. “Our stand on prohibiting nuclear-powered vessels in our waters stays unaltered,” she explained to Newshub. 

Highlighting the fact that in 1987 New Zealand made a sweeping decision to declare its territory and territorial waters as nuclear-free zones, brings your attention back to this historic event. On the same date in September, Jacinda Ardern informed her Australian peer, Scott Morrison, of Australia’s plans to construct nuclear submarines and reinforced their commitment to adhere to the last century’s decision. 

Even though, Jacinda Ardern expresses her support for her neighboring country’s plan to develop new nuclear submarines to enhance regional security. She recognizes that both New Zealand and Australia have the shared objective of promoting security and peace in the Indo-Pacific region, a region that includes New Zealand. “As a nation primarily located in the Pacific, New Zealand scrutinizes foreign policy advancements through the lens of what best serves the region’s interests,” affirmed Ardern.


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