Australian news, and some related international items

Can the Australian government ignore this powerful letter exposing the foolish decision to ”go nuclear” with submarines and AUKUS?

Ed. note. Here I summarise the points in this well-researched letter: Diplomatic Repercussions –  Geopolitical Tensions and Australian National Security(Why the decision makes Australias national security worse not better)  – We now have No Submarine Program at All.  – But Is Nuclear the Best Stealth? – Can we Build them at Osborne?  -Time to re-evaluate our Submarine Program? –The worst option is to do as we have now done. – Conclusion – This decision  should be re-visited


The submarine decision, especially within the context of the new ‘AUKUS’ grouping, but even taken on its own:

Worsens rather than improves Australias own national security, making us (more of) a nuclear target than we have ever been, and extending the targeting potentially from joint facilities to Australian cities and naval bases.

Worsens rather than improves regional security, adding impetus to regional arms racing, and increasing the likelihood that other Governments may decide they would like to have submarines fueled by HEU 

Leaves Australia currently with no replacement program for the Collins Class submarines

Makes no sense even within its own restricted terms of reference because it does not offer a submarine with the best stealth

—Requires a submarine  that may not be possible to construct even in part at Osborne. 

Letter Sent 5 October to Cabinet Security Cttee, Senate, Reps, DFAT, re Nuclear Subs, AUKUS,



Dear Prime Minister Scott Morrison, other decision-makers on the Australian nuclear submarines project, Cabinet National Security Committee, AUKUS:


The decision to establish a new diplomatic/military grouping, AUKUS, deepens confrontational tendencies in the Indo-Pacific region and is hence destabilizing, and worsens rather than improves Australia’s national security. It helps to ‘paint nuclear targets on Australia’s backside’.

The decision to equip Australia with nuclear submarines fueled with highly enriched uranium is both destabilizing and proliferative even if technically within the letters of the NPT.  The decision to go with HEU fueled subs in particular opens a proliferation ‘pandoras box’.

The decision to ‘go nuclear’ with submarines has been justified on the supposed technical superiority of nuclear over conventional subs. However a look in detail at the real – world technical and operational characteristics of advanced conventional and nuclear subs shows clear technical superiorities on the part of advanced conventional submarines exactly where we are being told nuclear subs are superior – in the area of quietness and non-detectability. The technical case for nuclear over conventional submarines is not established.

No analysis, and no thought, has been given as to what are Australia’s real security needs, and into whether submarines of any description fit into it.

The decision leaves Australia with currently NO replacement program for the Collins Class subs.        

The Submarine Decision and AUKUS

The decision to cancel an existing, well – established, contract with the French Naval Group for a diesel version of the Suffren class attack submarine has not met with universal acclaim, particularly from the French.

At the same time, the  closely related decision to establish a new military/diplomatic grouping to be known as ‘AUKUS’ (Australia-UK-US) has also raised questions as to its  geo-strategic impact, and contributed further to the deterioration of our relations with China, and possibly with Russia, with potentially catastrophic implications for Australias national security and the safety of all Australians.

It has quite reasonably been suggested that the establishment of ‘AUKUS” cements Australia into an ‘Anglo-sphere’ that is intrinsically limited in scope (how for example, does it relate to the ‘quad’ of India, Australia, Japan, US?), that excludes other nations that have strong Indo-Pacific interests and are allies (including France itself, now snubbed and smarting), and above all, that deepens confrontational attitudes in the region, especially with China.

It is by no means clear that the decision to substitute nuclear powered submarines is even the best decision on technical grounds, or that nuclear powered submarines are necessarily superior in the respects that might be important to Australia and particularly in extreme stealth – to conventionally powered submarines, either the existing Collins class, the erstwhile projected French submarine, or to an evolutionary successor to Collins.

Diplomatic Repercussions

The deterioration in parallel, of Australia’s relations with not just France but the whole of the EU have been underlined by the delay by one month in EU-Australia trade talks.



These above items suggest that the damage to Australia’s diplomatic standing may be significant, and last some time, contributing to longer-term difficulties with establishing intimate trading relationships outside the ‘anglo-sphere’ and outside China, making Australia’s friends a yet more circumscribed group of countries.

Geopolitical Tensions and Australian National Security

(Why the decision makes Australias national security worse not better) 

BOTH Australia’s national security and our prosperity are highly dependent on our having a good relationship, or at least a tolerable one, with China.  A bad relationship both threatens our trade and makes us a nuclear target – as the Chinese themselves in statement after statement are making very clear. Our ‘extended deterrence’ relationship with the US, and our hosting of US joint facilities worsens rather than improves the dynamic and ‘paints a target on Australia’s backside’. 

While one may legitimately disagree with Chinese policies on Tibet, Sinkiang, and Taiwan and with its claim, rejected in 2016, to a large section of the South China Sea, and over the origins of COVID, these geopolitical tensions could have been managed much better than they have been managed. ‘Wolf-Warrior’ diplomacy may be very bad diplomacy – indeed maybe not diplomacy at all – but the behavior for which we are responsible is not China’s, but our own. Bad behavior is not necessarily answered by more bad behavior, confrontational attitudes are not best responded to by confrontation in return. If we think that Chinese wolf-warrior ‘diplomacy’ is bad diplomacy or just plain bad behavior we should rise to be superior to it, not imitate it. And if Chinese diplomacy has ‘shot itself in the foot’, Australia’s diplomacy should not do likewise.

Responding to confrontational attitudes with more confrontational attitudes has clear negative consequences for Australia’s national security. That the so-called ‘joint facilities’ (Pine Gap and NW Cape), as critical parts of US nuclear command and control and satellite surveillance, are high-priority nuclear targets (for Russia, China and the DPRK) has been the case since at least the 1980’s, and most probably for as long as those facilities have existed.

However, a gratuitous worsening in relationships with a China that is significantly expanding its nuclear capabilities potentially places Australian cities at risk. The fielding of nuclear powered subs by Australia will always leave the suspicion that those vessels are not merely nuclear powered – that they could be nuclear armed, at least in the eyes of an opponent. It does Australia not the slightest good to protest that such arguments are irrational: The authority for what the Chinese security establishment thinks might be the case is themselves, and not what we may think they ‘ought’ to think. The way to know what they think is to listen to what they tell us they think. We must take with the utmost seriousness what Victor Gao and Wang Yi say about what China does in fact think about  AUKUS and Australia having nuclear submarines.(see below)  

In fact, if the proposed vessels are able to launch cruise missiles as they presumably will be,(whether in the Virginia version or the Astute version) then there is simply no way to know exactly (from outside) what kind of warhead those cruise missiles may have. (Of course the same caution would apply to a conventional sub equipped with cruise missile armament – It would certainly also apply to the Astute class sub, should we choose to acquire that.) Naval facilities devoted to the new subs (Garden Island? Cockburn Sound?) would thus seem likely to become targets. 

That Australia is insistent that it does not have nuclear weapons and that the submarines are not equipped with them is frankly neither here nor there: What is here or there is what our potential opponents say, not what we say.  If the Chinese think our subs MIGHT have nuclear weapons, or MIGHT have a nuclear capability, that  is what will drive their nuclear targeting, not our expressions of injured innocence.

Thus, According to Victor Gao of the Centre for China and Globalization:

“Armed with nuclear submarines, Australia itself will be a target for possible nuclear attacks.” 

He asked ‘Do you really want to be a target for a possible Nuclear war?’. Victor Gao is said to be influential with, and to represent the views of, the Chinese Government. That the subs themselves are supposedly not nuclear armed makes no difference. They will be treated as if they are.

If we believe Victor Gao, AUKUS would appear to cement an Australian place in an ‘anti-China’ ‘anglo-sphere’  lineup, transforming our most important trading partner into our greatest immediate – term security threat, not merely to remote ‘joint facilities’ but to cities where most of us live. In his words, do we ‘really want to be a target for a possible nuclear war?’  Again what matters to Australian national security is what people like Gao think, not what we think they ‘OUGHT’ to think.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said that AUKUS brings a hidden danger to regional peace, stability and international order. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chun Ying has asked if Australia ‘really cares’ about improving relations with China.

We ignore statements like this at our peril. Yet we ARE ignoring them, and it IS at our peril. By doing so we are literally ‘painting a nuclear target on Australias backside’, not to mention potentially on millions of Australian citizens in our cities.

Russia also seems to be less than impressed by the possibility of Australia obtaining nuclear powered submarines. According to  Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Rybakov, speaking to Tass:

“We are also concerned about the … partnership that will allow Australia, after 18 months of consultations and several years of attempts, to obtain nuclear-powered submarines in sufficient numbers to become one of the top five countries for this type of armaments,” “This is a great challenge to the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.”


Ryabakov’s comments both underline the increased likelihood of Australian naval bases become nuclear targets, and once more, the proliferative implications of subs whose reactors run on HEU.

We now have No Submarine Program at All

The international fallout, both regionally and in terms of our relations with Europe is thus uniformly negative. At the same time it has been pointed out by many commentators that the decision to scrap an existing program takes us ‘back to square 1’, in terms of submarine acquisition. We are at a point that we were before deciding to replace the Collins Class with the French submarines. We have nothing specific in the pipeline. 

Whatever progress had been made for good or ill in providing Australia with its own version of the French attack class will have been scrapped, and we no longer know whether, for example, we will acquire a version of the UK’s ‘Astute’ class attack submarine, or the US Virginia class. And if as we repeatedly hear, the first of the new submarines won’t arrive until 2040, they will, presumably, be obsolete before we get them.

Former Prime Minister Turnbull notes that:

“Australia now has no new submarine program at all. We have cancelled the one we had with France and have a statement of intent with the UK and the US to examine the prospect of acquiring nuclear powered submarines.”

But Is Nuclear the Best Stealth?

It has been suggested by some analysts that progress in ASW technology may make ALL submarines ‘obsolete’ by 2040, as the seas become increasingly transparent to new developments in sonar and AI.  There is no evidence the Government has paid the slightest attention to this possibility.



These advances in ASW technology may or may not make life unviable for subs. It will certainly make life harder. A major factor in submarine survival will be the capability to be ultra-stealthy. Nuclear submarines do not excel in this department, but in underwater speed and range.

These potential ASW developments tell far more against nuclear submarines than against the far more invisible and inaudible advanced conventional submarines with air-independent propulsion, that are small, more maneuverable, and much better able to ‘disappear’ in the depths of the ocean than much larger and noisier nuclear subs.

A case in point is the ability of the Collins Class sub to evade a US naval task force including a US nuclear sub and carry out a ‘kill’ on a US destroyer in exercises in 2011.

Also, the ability of the Swedish Gotland Class sub to ‘sink’ the USS Ronald Reagan: 

The common factor in these two videos is the ability of advanced conventional subs to go ultra-quiet in a way that nuclear submarines cannot.  While nuclear subs have range and underwater speed, the prize for ultra-quietness seemingly goes to advanced non-nuclear subs. (Such as the Swedish Gotland class and our own Collins class)  This is in part because nuclear subs are larger (hence more detectable), and in part because nuclear reactors must always be cooled even when not operating and this requires pumps to circulate water, which make noise. (and must run continually even dockside) 

Nuclear subs also dump significant quantities of heat (and some radiation) into the water, which is detectable. As ASW technology improves, subs will find it harder and harder to hide – and nuclear subs will find it hardest.  Australia may perhaps have picked a technology that by the time it is delivered will not deliver the stealth we thought it would, when less exotic technologies would have done so, and at a fraction of the cost.

Can we Build them at Osborne?

A major question is of course Australia’s ability to actually build the subs at the Osborne facility in SA.

The surgery required to build a Virginia class sub at Osborne would indeed be radical. According to Marcus Hellyer of ASPI, who also noted that many of the purported advantages of nuclear might be ‘speculative and possibly questionable’, 

“The change from Collins to the Virginias would be so great that virtually every other part of the support system would need to be replaced. The $1.5 billion facilities bill for the joint strike fighter would likely pale in comparison,”

Questions are being asked in Adelaide itself, by the AMWU, who would cover those who worked on the submarine shipyard, about the safety of a shipboard nuclear reactor. The question will be not merely its ‘objective’ safety, but the willingness of those who would build the sub in Adelaide to do so – that is if the subs ARE to be built there at all.

And it may well be concluded that the facility at Osborne does not in fact, have the ability to undertake the task of construction or partial construction of either a Virginia or an Astute class vessel at all. Osborne would have been more likely able to construct an evolutionary successor to Collins, without the radical reconstructions spoken of by Hellyer. (though Osborne might be able to construct the bow segment of an ‘extended’ Astute according to Chris Skinner – see below)

It has been suggested by former RAN commander Chris Skinner that rather than proceeding with the Virginia class, that work already done on the French option be re-directed to purchasing an Astute variant from the UK, built in an ‘extension’ of the current UK Astute program. Skinner suggests that ‘forward sections’ could be built at Osborne. Even this however is a significant down-grading of the role of Osborne.

Skinner correctly points out that by 2045, with no other changes, the current Collins Class will have all been retired. (This seems to conflict with other analysts who suggest a Collins Class life extension to 2048). 

Time to re-evaluate our Submarine Program?

Perhaps now was not at all an optimum time to re-evaluate Australia’s entire submarine acquisition program, especially if doing so meant discarding what we had – even if not totally perfect – and ending up with nothing, but with considerable damage to our relationship both with China (Making a (bigger) geo-strategic threat out of our best customer) and with France (Making an enemy of a friend and ally).

This is especially so if the advantages in stealth in particular, turn out to be illusory or nonexistent.

However if such a re- evaluation of our submarine programs were to take place, there is a clear hierarchy of questions that needed to be asked. None of them have seemingly been asked.

–Do we even need submarines at all? How exactly might they contribute to Australia’s defence? Or is our money better spent elsewhere (e.g. on medium size surface vessels)?  Clear and honest answers need to be obtained on this before any further decisions on subs are made. Even conventional subs are not cheap.

-If we DO decide we need submarines, why do we need them? How does the answer to that question feed into the actual capabilities we require, and how we station them and posture them? Do we need exotic hi-tech capabilities at all, or is what is required something more pedestrian – something we can build ourselves in SA without too much dependence on ‘modular’, ‘black-box’ overseas technologies that we can’t even repair ourselves, let alone manufacture?

An evolutionary follow-on from the Collins Class, possibly with some input from the Swedes (as in the Collins class itself), might have been the best and most dependable bet. We are in any case going to have to extend Collins-Class life to and beyond 2048:

The next-best and most dependable bet might have been to stick with the French project we actually already had.

The third best option might have been, if we insisted on going nuclear, to swap to the French nuclear variant, giving us effectively a Suffren-class attack submarine. Again that raises the question of why, and whether we really do, need nuclear given the undoubted stealth advantages of advanced conventional subs with AIPS. It is worthy of note however, that the French nuclear variant of its attack class did not require high-enriched uranium, running on LEU. The proliferative implications of subs running on HEU would thus have been absent. 

And by this time, the options are getting less and less attractive.

The worst option is to do as we have now done.


The submarine decision, especially within the context of the new ‘AUKUS’ grouping, but even taken on its own:

—Worsens rather than improves Australias own national security, making us (more of) a nuclear target than we have ever been, and extending the targeting potentially from joint facilities to Australian cities and naval bases.

—Worsens rather than improves regional security, adding impetus to regional arms racing, and increasing the likelihood that other Governments may decide they would like to have submarines fueled by HEU 

—Leaves Australia currently with no replacement program for the Collins Class submarines

—Makes no sense even within its own restricted terms of reference because it does not offer a submarine with the best stealth

—Requires a submarine  that may not be possible to construct even in part at Osborne. 

This decision  should be re-visited.

We should start by asking whether Australia needs submarines at all and if so, exactly for what purpose, and subs with exactly what operational characteristics. 

If the answer is that we do need a submarine, should probably choose an evolutionary follow-on to the Collins Class sub, designed in part on the basis of feedback from Collins Class personnel (Officers and crew), and in close cooperation with the Swedish. Critical to that design process must be actual operational experience with the Collins Class.


John Hallam

People for Nuclear Disarmament

Human Survival Project


Nick Deane, Marrickville Peace Group, Marrickville, NSW.       

October 5, 2021 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, opposition to nuclear, politics, weapons and war

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