Australian news, and some related international items

French nuclear submarines a better choice for Australia

We’re repeating all the same Collins mistakes,  THE AUSTRALIAN    27 Nov 21,  Why we should turn AUKUS into FAUKUS and buy our nuclear-powered submarines from France.By JON STANFORD

”…………………unfortunate decision is to effectively eliminate competition in selecting Australia’s SSNs. The likelihood is that our AUKUS partners will decide which of them – probably the British – will provide Australia with SSNs. Without a competitor – and the French Suffren is the only option – we will again be negotiating with a monopolist on a “take it or leave it” basis.

In addition, the prospect of acquiring a US or British SSN takes us back to the third problem with the Attack program – overambition. Both the British and US navies operate large submarines – around three times the size of Collins – that may be too much for the smaller RAN to digest.

Defence has stated that Australia should acquire a mature submarine design. This will be difficult to achieve within AUKUS. With production of its PWR2 reactor now terminated, there will be no further construction of the British Astute-class after delivery of the seventh boat. The next British SSNs will use the new PWR3 reactor, largely an American design, and the platform will need to be bigger in order to accommodate it.

Were we able to acquire an American submarine, this would also probably be a new design. The US is already planning for the first SSN(X) to replace the Virginia-class in the early 2030s.

In both the British and American options, therefore, all the risks of a new design, including late delivery, will be present.

Both these new platforms will be bigger than the submarines they replace and require even larger crews. The Virginia-class has a crew of 135, 80 more than Collins, while Astute’s complement is 98. Would we be able to populate these very large submarines? Even the British, with a much bigger population than Australia, have difficulty in recruiting and retaining crews for their submarines.
The latest French SSN, Suffren, has some advantages for the RAN. It is a relatively recent design with only the first of class in commission. Reputedly, it has superior stealth characteristics. It has a crew of 60, only five more than Collins. Given the progress already made on Attack, whose ­reference design was Suffren, Australia should be able to acquire a mature French SSN in a shorter timeframe than a new American or British design.

French SSNs also have the advantage of using low enriched uranium (LEU) rather than the weapons grade, highly enriched uranium (HEU) that fuels American and British boats………

The government’s story that Australian industry cannot refuel nuclear reactors is also pure fiction. ……. Our 20MW nuclear reactor is located in Lucas Heights, a leafy Sydney suburb in Sutherland Shire, adjacent to the Prime Minister’s electorate of Cook. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has been refuelling nuclear reactors there for more than 60 years

Unlike its predecessor, which was designed for HEU, the current OPAL reactor uses LEU fuel…….

It is difficult to see any benefit in scrapping our strategic partnership with France. While a Barry McKenzie-style of diplomacy may trigger political resonance for the government, it has needlessly damaged an important relationship and constrained our options for acquiring nuclear submarines……..

The US administration, blindsided by the unprecedented recall of the ambassador of its oldest ally, may already be thinking of extending an olive branch to France. Time for FAUKUS, anyone?

Jon Stanford is principal of the think tank Submarines for Australia and a former senior official in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. 

November 27, 2021 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, weapons and war

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