Maybe in the short term, the US will lease a number of Los Angeles-class nuclear submarines to the Australian Navy for training and familiarization.
Recent announcements indicate that Australia, the UK, and the US have formed a new security cooperation (or AUKUS), along with information that the Australian Navy will acquire nuclear submarines. Although the countries involved are adamant that Australia will never possess nuclear weapons; but they have the right to use nuclear-powered submarines. But this statement has caused countless headaches in many countries.
The question arises, why is Australia – a country with a small submarine fleet, which is quite old and has no experience in nuclear submarine operation, so determined to own nuclear submarines? The basic answer is that nuclear submarines have twice the performance of conventional submarines; while the contract to buy French conventional diesel-electric submarines is no less expensive than nuclear submarines. Australia is simply optimizing its money into weapons with better performance.
The Australian Navy currently operates a fleet of six Collins class submarines; These submarines are essentially an enlarged variant of Sweden’s Västergötland class – a class of Cold War diesel-electric submarines. Although Australia’s Collins class submarines have been in service since 1996, problems remain.
Australia decided to purchase a proven design, as a cost-effective measure rather than building a new class. However, when it was decided to modify the Västergötland class, the Australian Navy essentially created a new submarine design, so there were numerous problems. The Australian Navy discovered defects in the welding process of the Collins-class hull, affecting the durability of the hull. Problems with the ship’s propeller design, the diesel engine also required a redesign. The Västergötland-class hull, when extended into the Collins-class design, was not fully assessed for hydrodynamic noise, and upon completion was found to be too noisy to travel with high speed.
To replace the Collins-class submarine, the Australian Navy chose a French-designed Attack-class submarine. But like the Collins class, the Attack class is based on a design of another submarine, the Barracuda class of the French Navy. This modification can create problems similar to those experienced with the Collins class, when modifying an existing design into a completely new design.
Compared to the Collins class submarines, the Attack class will not help improve combat capabilities too much. The Attack class has the advantage of longer range and ability to stay submerged over older submarines. And like the Collins class submarine, the French submarine lacks a vertical launch system for cruise missiles. Finally, rising costs also play an important role. Despite the original French price estimate, the cost for 12 Attack-class submarines has reached 90 billion Australian dollars (AUD), or nearly 66 billion US dollars and will be Australia’s most expensive defense program.
According to analysis of military observers, Australia’s switch to building nuclear submarines is a smart choice. Nuclear submarines provide far superior range and duration to submersion than conventional powered submarines. It is also much quieter and less detectable and therefore more survivable.
Moreover, taking advantage of 125 years of British and American experience in nuclear submarine propulsion, will help Australia quickly exploit their nuclear submarines effectively. Maybe in the short term, the US will lease a number of Los Angeles-class nuclear submarines to the Australian Navy for training and familiarization.