In the latest blow to Australia’s ambitious plans to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, overstretched American and British shipyards may not be able to supply Canberra with the boats within the decade as outlined in the three sides’ AUKUS agreement.
At a recent Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies seminar, US Navy Rear Admiral Scott Pappano was asked if the AUKUS arrangement to supply Australia with nuclear subs would burden or draw crucial resources away from the US’ own sub-building plans.
Earlier comments made by Australian opposition leader and former defense minister Peter Dutton this June saying that the US could provide the first two nuclear subs by 2030, without providing material evidence such a timeline was in place.
Dutton expressed confidence that the US would pull out all the stops to help Australia acquire nuclear submarines. Pappano’s statements, however, would appear to shoot down the possibility of such an early delivery.
Pappano mentioned workforce issues as a drag factor, noting that securing skilled naval shipyard workers such as casters and molders is increasingly difficult as many of these laborers have shifted from manufacturing to services.
A 2017 study by RAND mentions declining levels of workforce experience in US shipyards, noting productivity drops when experienced workers are replaced with less-experienced ones.
The study also says aging US nuclear subs and increased workloads on the US carrier fleet have caused more work in fewer maintenance periods, resulting in less frequent availability for skilled workers and inefficiencies in project execution.
Such challenges will no doubt affect how fast the US may be able to supply nuclear subs to Australia. Furthermore, an August 2022 report from the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) shows that the US is struggling to fulfill its own nuclear submarine requirements.
The report states that the US Virginia-class nuclear submarine program has experienced cost growth in its early stages and is now suffering from maintenance delays, spare parts shortages and concerns about shipyards’ capacity to deliver.
The increase in workload includes doubling the production of Virginia-class subs to two boats a year and introducing the new Virginia Block V variant, which has a 25-meter midsection that can house 28 Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Moreover, the US is phasing out its aging Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines for the new Columbia class. The first boat is projected to enter service in 2027, with 12 Columbia subs slated to replace the 14 long-serving Ohio-class units, which first entered service in 1976.
The mass retirement of the Los Angeles- and Ohio-class submarines opens a dangerous underwater warfare capability gap, says Professor Tetsuo Kotani in a Nikkei news report.
He notes that as current US nuclear submarines enter mass retirement in the 2020s, the total number of boats will decline as production likely fails to catch up.
This delay will open a submarine capability gap starting in 2027 when China’s threat of invading Taiwan is believed to be at its peak. It is thus highly likely that the US will not allow Australia’s request for nuclear submarines to jeopardize its own defense requirements.
Despite that, Australia still has options to replace its long-serving and troubled Collins-class boats, whose issues include budget overruns, poor welding, excessive noise, unreliable engines, non-streamlined periscopes and obsolete combat systems.
Asia Times has noted that Australia could revisit the idea of long-range conventional subs while waiting for nuclear ones.
Before announcing that it would acquire nuclear submarines under AUKUS, Australia had a previous agreement with French naval shipbuilder DCNS for 12 Barracuda Shortfin conventional submarines derived from the French Navy’s Barracuda-class nuclear submarines.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2022.
And all to please the USA who has told Australia that China is a “Threat to it ” and therefore has to defend itself in case of attack. The USA doing what it always does generating income for the War industry-aka –“the Military industry ” .America has now admitted war is its # 1 wealth industry . Unlike America China does not go round the world invading countries it doesn’t like – 900 US bases worldwide/400 wars since its inception Very good economic strategy when you can force/browbeat other countries to spend their GDP on American hardware and not their… Read more »