When it announced its intention to procure eight nuclear attack submarines in September 2021 [SNA] as part of its alliance with the United States and the United Kingdom [AUKUS] and thereby canceling the order for twelve Shorfin Barracuda submarines [ou classe « Attack »] spent with the Naval Group, Australia probably did not anticipate the mountain of difficulties that it had to overcome.
Except for the diplomatic complications it caused with France [mais qui se sont depuis atténuées à la faveur d’un changement de gouvernement à Canberra]this decision could result in a capacity shortage for the Collins submarines currently deployed by the Royal Australian Navy [RAN] should not have enough potential to last until delivery of the first SNAs. And this at a time when tensions with China continue to mount.
Aside from this risk, Australia faces several challenges, as recently pointed out by Richard Marles, its defense minister. “We chose the nuclear route. But the scale of the effort involved is enormous,” he said at a conference at the Submarine Institute of Australia in early November. It will in fact be a question of building the infrastructures to house the future SNA, training the crew and technicians, and building a robust industrial and technological base… Which also requires very high investments in one area – nuclear power – for which Australia has no know-how.
At the moment, the Australian Ministry of Defense has not yet decided on the SNA model it intends to equip the RAN with. The choice could be between the American Virginia and the British Astute. Unless a decision is made to join the SSN program[X] that the US Navy hopes to achieve in the mid-2030s [une enveloppe de 237 millions de dollars a été demandée dans le budget 2023 pour le financement de la recherche et le développement]. Or the SSN project[R] Launched by the Royal Navy in 2021.
Either way, it’s likely that the Australian Navy will need to build an “interim” capability. South Korea is watching this case closely as its naval industry is able to offer Dosan Ahn Chang-ho type conventionally powered attack submarines. [ou KSS-III]. As well as the Swedish Saab with its A26 model [ou classe Blekinge].
And France is lurking… Indeed, in September he reported that Paris had just offered Australia to supply four “Shortfin Barracuda” submarines to be built at Cherbourg.
Is this the offer President Macron had in mind when he raised the issue of Australian submarines in Bangkok, where the “Asia-Pacific” summit is currently taking place? Or was it the terminated contract in 2021?
Still, the French president said the offer of submarine cooperation with Australia was still valid. “It’s well known, it stays on the table,” he said on November 16, a day after meeting Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanse on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali.
“We’ll see how they do [les Australiens] adapt to the difficulties,” continued Mr. Macron, referring to the challenges Australia faces in order to maintain an ANS fleet. “Right now, they haven’t decided to change their strategy on this issue,” he noted. But “there is a fundamental choice whether or not they produce submarines at home, or whether they decide to go nuclear or not,” he continued.
“The French solution offers Australia an alternative that guarantees its freedom and sovereignty,” stressed Emmanuel Macron again, recalling that the 12 short-finned barracuda ordered by Canberra should have been built in Adelaide.
Regarding the situation in the Indo-Pacific, Mr. Macron recalled the French strategy. “In this fiercely contested region that is the scene of a confrontation between the two leading world powers […] Our strategy is: to defend freedom and sovereignty, balances that preserve maritime freedoms, balanced cultural exchanges, economic exchanges, the development of technologies without a hegemonic model dominating,” he explained.