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Major policy flip from Australia: out with French diesel subs and in with *nuclear ones*!?

Next thing you know we might get *one* nuclear power plant?

HMS Ambush, Nuclear Submarine

HMS Ambush

Yesterday the odds of that were “Buckleys”. Wow. Foreign readers might not appreciate how seismic this is. There are 450 nuclear power plants in the world and  Australia has none of them (just one little medical research reactor). So even getting a small nuclear plant in an underwater boat is a pretty big deal.

Australia to get nuclear-powered submarines, will scrap $90b program to build French-designed subs


In 2016, the Turnbull government announced French company Naval Group (then known as DCNS) had been selected for this country’s largest-ever defence contract, to design and build “regionally superior” conventional submarines.

A well-placed military source has told the ABC the Defence Department’s general manager of submarines, Greg Sammut, has called an urgent “clear lower decks” meeting for tomorrow morning to discuss the dramatic development.

Another senior official said “top secret” briefings have been arranged at the Defence Department on Thursday.

We’re still fixing the legacy of Malcom Turnbull’s mistakes.

Australia Goes Nuclear


The report goes on to state Australia, the United States and Britain are expected to jointly announce a new trilateral security partnership on Thursday, with a focus on aligning technology and regional challenges.

The new three-nation security pact – called AUKUS – will be seen by China as a bid to counter its regional influence, especially in the contested South China Sea, according to the ABC.

The nuclear submarines would likely be based in Western Australia giving easier access to the broad expanses of the Indian Ocean.

The new alliance has been called “China’s Worst Nightmare”. 

UPDATE: The irony is that the French subs were originally nuclear subs, and needed major modifications at great expense to turn them into diesel subs, and now we are saying that they’re no good because they are not nuclear. So the French have every reason to feel aggrieved.  But if we are getting US Nuclear Sub technology “for free” that explains dumping the $90b French deal.

In another irony, Jacinda Ardern popped up to say that these subs won’t be allowed in the New Zealand zone of the ocean because they are a nuclear free zone. We wish our New Zealand friends the best of luck, and wonder how well the zoning will work on Chinese subs. Like gun control, the anti-nuclear forcefield may only repel the good subs and not the enemy.

I fully expect Arden to get a stern talking too and pull back from statements like that in the future.

David Archibald was lamenting these daft submarine policy choices 3 years ago

Malcolm Turnbull has made that very difficult. He took delight in choosing French vapourware submarines over the proven Japanese offering because the latter was Tony Abbott’s choice. The French submarines are scheduled to enter service in the 2030s.  In the interim we will be spending as much keeping the sclerotic Collins class submarines going as it would have been to replace them with the Japanese Soryu class. The Collins class is cursed with one of the worst diesel engines ever put into a marine vessel.  Our submariners will be struggling with them for decades yet thanks to Prime Minister Turnbull.

As an indication of the idiocy that is guiding our French vapourware submarines, Asia Pacific Defence Reporter reports that they are going to be built with lead acid batteries instead of lithium ion batteries because the RAN does not want to be introducing this particular new technology in the 2030s. The Japanese are using lithium ion batteries now in the Soryu class. The weight difference is enormous – 300 tonnes of lead acid batteries versus 100 tonnes of lithium ion. The delta of 200 tonnes makes a big difference to a submarine. This decision on batteries by the RAN has been described as “retarded” by an experienced Australian defence observer based in Washington.

David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare


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