• The three leaders making the announcement. Credit: Yamiche Alcindor via Twitter
    The three leaders making the announcement. Credit: Yamiche Alcindor via Twitter

Updated 16 September, 0918

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that under the newly-created Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) agreement, Australia will acquire nuclear powered, but not nuclear armed, submarines to replace its existing Collins class diesel submarines.

As a result, Australia's agreement with the French Government to acquire 12 large conventionally powered submarines under its $88 billion Future Submarine project is now dead in the water.

Morrison revealed that the new submarines will be built in Adelaide, South Australia, with UK and US assistance.

Australian mainstream media outlets report that US Virginia class submarines will operate from Fleet Base West in Western Australia in the interim.

The three governments will enter an 18-month study of the work required to bring the technology into Australia. No timeline for construction of the new submarines has been given.

Australia has previously rejected nuclear power and this morning's announcement comes as a surprise to the public at large, however Morrison was at pains to point out that although the submarines will be nuclear powered, they will not nuclear armed and Australia would comply with international nuclear weapons proliferation treaties. Morrison further stressed that Australia will not adopt nuclear power for civil purposes.

"Australia is not seeking to establish nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability," Morrison said.

In a joint statement between US President Joe Biden, British PM Boris Johnson and PM Scott Morrison, the three leaders said they will leverage UK and US expertise to stand up an Australian nuclear-powered submarine capability.

"We will promote deeper information and technology sharing. We will foster deeper integration of security and defense-related science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains. And in particular, we will significantly deepen cooperation on a range of security and defense capabilities," the statement said.

"As the first initiative under AUKUS, recognizing our common tradition as maritime democracies, we commit to a shared ambition to support Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy. Today, we embark on a trilateral effort of 18 months to seek an optimal pathway to deliver this capability. We will leverage expertise from the United States and the United Kingdom, building on the two countries’ submarine programs to bring an Australian capability into service at the earliest achievable date."

Under the AUKUS agreement, the three countries will also share information and expertise in AI, quantum technology, underwater systems and long-range strike capabilities.

"Today we also embark on further trilateral collaboration under AUKUS to enhance our joint capabilities and interoperability. These initial efforts will focus on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities," the three leaders said.

In a statement, Naval Group said the announcement was a 'major disappointment'.

"Naval Group takes note of the decision of the Australian authorities to acquire a fleet of nuclear submarines in collaboration with the United States and the United Kingdom," the company said. "The Commonwealth decided not to proceed with the next phase of the program.

"This is a major disappointment for Naval Group, which was offering Australia a regionally superior conventional submarine with exceptional performances. Naval Group was also offering Australia a sovereign submarine capability making unrivalled commitments in terms of technology transfer, jobs and local content.

"For five years, Naval Group teams, both in France and in Australia, as well as our partners, have given their best and Naval Group has delivered on all its commitments.

"The analysis of the consequences of this sovereign Australian decision will be conducted with the Commonwealth of Australia in the coming days."

The deal means the work required to keep the Collins boats in service will become even more critical to maintaining Australia's submarine capability whilst a nuclear-powered replacement is built. More on this issue will be available in the October edition of ADM.  

More to follow.

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