Fast Track Aussie Nuclear Submarine Development, Says MP on AUKUS Anniversary

An Australian member of parliament wants to speed up the delivery of nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra to send a clear message to China and Russia that Australia will defend its sovereignty against their aggressive ambitions. Andrew Hastie, speaking at a Hudson Institute event on the anniversary of the historic agreement to build a nuclear-submarine force […]

Royal Australian Navy submarine HMAS Sheean arrives alongside during a logistics port visit of Hobart, Tasmania on April 1, 2021. Royal Australian Navy Photo

An Australian member of parliament wants to speed up the delivery of nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra to send a clear message to China and Russia that Australia will defend its sovereignty against their aggressive ambitions.

Andrew Hastie, speaking at a Hudson Institute event on the anniversary of the historic agreement to build a nuclear-submarine force in Australia and share advanced technology between Canberra, London and Washington, said Australia wants the submarine capability in
“the next decade if not sooner.”

He added that this insistence on building up sovereign defense is a lesson Australia learned from Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion this year and China’s aggressive moves against Taiwan.

Australia will decide which model of submarine design it will follow – the United States’ Virginia-class attack boats or the United Kingdom’s Astute-class – in the first quarter of 2023. But that is only one step in the larger agreement, he said.

Patrick Cronin, the Asia-Pacific chair at the Hudson Institute, called the Australia-United Kingdom-United States [AUKUS] agreement “clearly a step up,” and not solely on submarine propulsion, but also in technology and modernizing defense and security arrangements.

The Chinese “do see [AUKUS] as a serious threat” to them from advanced in manned and unmanned undersea warfare to space to cyber, he said.

The agreement has taken earlier arrangements between the three nations and codified and institutionalized them over a host of technologies, said Bryan Clark, Hudson’s director for defense concepts and technology. The nuclear propulsion part will be the vanguard leading to other arrangements among the three nations on technology ranging from unmanned systems, hypersonics, electronic warfare, quantum computing and possibly Canberra creating the equivalent of the American Defense Advance Research Projects Agency known as DARPA.

Clark said that with AUKUS “it seems like we’re making progress” in developing a number of technologies and over time it includes the sharing of “operational knowledge.”

“It’s really important we get this right,” Hastie said. He added that the three nations also had to examine how the agreement affects immigration and the movement of capital, in addition to developing, transferring and exchanging military technology.

“AUKUS is a great start,” he added.

The agreement can also serve as a model for working with other allies, like Japan and South Korea, and partners like India in defense technology transfers, the panelists said.

“Australia is a rising power” in the Indo-Pacific and this commitment to long-term security agreement shows it, Cronin added. Hastie said this commitment holds across Canberra’s major political parties.

In addition to AUKUS, Cronin cited Australia creating a space force to fill a gap in its future defense and showing it will not let Chinese threats restrict its defense development. Clark said this expands existing cooperation between the two nations when it comes to sharing this intelligence and data.

In the panel discussion, Clark said the arrangement could also take advantage of Australia’s geographic location by locating land-based global strike weapons, thereby giving Canberra a new capability “to deter and defeat Chinese ambitions and aggression.”

Looking ahead, Cronin said, “AUKUS is one major technology accelerator to build on” for the future security of allies and partners in the region, since it involves more than nuclear submarine construction.

As a former assistant defense minister in the Australian government that reached the agreement between the three nations, Hastie said Canberra saw the need for it with the expanded cooperation between Russia and China. This created “a strange new monster” born out of “high grievance with America.” Examples of the increased threat this Beijing-Moscow cooperation poses in recent month are on display in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and China firing missiles across Taiwan, he added.

Hastie said China’s goal is to make it the great power of the Indo-Pacific, – economically, diplomatically and militarily – and to replace the United States’ model of cooperative relationships in the region with an authoritarian one.

“We shouldn’t over-estimate China’s capabilities,” nor underestimate those of the democracies, he added.

Hastie said the U.S. needs to develop a strategy that “goes beyond the congressional cycle [and] goes beyond the presidential cycle” that can meet the Chinese and Russian challenges in the long term. “We are looking for the United States’ next move.”