AVALON NEWS: AUKUS Deal, Virginia-Class Sub Causes Political Dust Up In Australia
Australian Minster of Defence Industry Pat Conroy, left, with reporters at Avalon Air Show
Stew Magnuson photo
GEELONG, Australia — A debate over whether the U.S Navy’s Virginia-class submarine is the best solution to an upcoming program that would have the United States and the United Kingdom build nuclear-powered boats for Australia caused a political brouhaha to break out at Avalon — The Australia Air Show — this week.
An announcement of the path forward for the AUKUS agreement for the two nations to build Australia a fleet of nuclear-powered subs that could stand as a deterrent to China in the Pacific is expected later this month when the leaders of the three nations meet in Washington, D.C.
Opposition leader and former minister of defence Peter Dutton started the dust up earlier in the week when talking to reporters at the air show and addressing speculation that an under development U.K. sub called the SSNR was a possible solution.
“The beauty in my mind with the American model of the Virginia class was that it is a proven design. It gave us interoperability with the Americans and there will be more American subs in the Indo-Pacific than British submarines,” the Australian Broadcast Corporation quoted him as saying.
The AUKUS agreement was announced in 2021 after Australia tore up a contract with France for its shipyards to build conventionally powered submarines. Since then, the three nations have been studying the way forward with their conclusions and a roadmap coming later in March.
Dutton also questioned whether the United Kingdom had the capacity to build the submarines.
Current Minster of Defence Industry Pat Conroy, speaking to reporters at the airshow March 1, called the comments “incredibly irresponsible” and “mischievous.”
“This is a man who received classified briefings up until the 21st of May on this program. He’s either being mischievous or he’s not privy to the latest information,” Conroy said.
Conroy said he had just returned from the United Kingdom where he received a full briefing on what the United Kingdom is doing on AUKUS, and he stays in regular contact with the U.S. Navy.
“We will make announcements very shortly about the optimal path forward on our nuclear-propelled submarines,” he said, then laid into the former government for putting the nation 10 years behind on replacing its Collins-class attack submarines. Plans to offshore production in Japan fell apart then it terminated the deal with France.
“Now we’re trying to repair that damage,” he said. He compared Dutton’s comments to an arsonist who started a fire then complained that the fire department was too slow to respond.
“When we make the announcement, we’ll be very clear about what is the optimal path forward. When we came to government there was a serious risk of having a capability gap. And now we are confident that we have a pathway to resolve that capability gap,” he said.
Australia decided that nuclear powered submarines give the nation more range and could put them farther north in the Pacific without having to refuel. The agreement would have the United States and the United Kingdom share highly secretive nuclear technology with Australia and give the nation the know-how to build and operate nuclear-powered attack submarines.
The issue of shipyard capacity has come up several times over the past 18 months with both the United States and the United Kingdom being in the middle of building out new sub fleets. The U.S. Navy is building the Columbia- and Virginia-class submarines and the Royal Navy the Dreadnought-class subs.