Australia to Build New Sub Base for Nuclear Attack Boat Fleet

The Royal Australian Navy will establish a new submarine base on its east coast to host its planned nuclear-powered submarines and to complement the existing Fleet Base West, Garden Island submarine base, Australian officials said on Monday. The government is considering three possible locations for the new base – Brisbane, Newcastle and Port Kembla – […]

Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Albuquerque (SSN-706) and Royal Australian Navy Collins-class submarine HMAS Rankin (SSG-78) operate together in waters off Rottnest Island, Western Australia on March 4, 2015. Royal Navy Photo

The Royal Australian Navy will establish a new submarine base on its east coast to host its planned nuclear-powered submarines and to complement the existing Fleet Base West, Garden Island submarine base, Australian officials said on Monday. The government is considering three possible locations for the new base – Brisbane, Newcastle and Port Kembla – down from 19 initial candidates

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcement in a virtual address to the Lowy Institute, followed by a joint media release with Defence Minister Peter Dutton. Morrison stated in the address that the decision was made to support basing and disposition of the future nuclear-powered submarines, but at the same time stressed that the new base would not replace any existing Fleet Base West facilities, “This is about additional national capacity, not relocating any existing or planned future capacity for Fleet Base West. Fleet Base West will remain home to our current and future submarines, given its strategic importance on the Indian Ocean” said Morrison.

Morrison said the decision to establish an east coast submarine base has been many years in the making as part of Australia’s transition from the Collins-class submarine, and that establishing a second submarine base on the east coast will enhance Australia’s strategic deterrent capability; bring advantages in operational, training, personnel and industrial terms; and enable regular visits from of U.S. and U.K. nuclear-powered submarines.

The Fleet Base West will also receive significant funding to support Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines and enable regular visits from U.S. and U.K. nuclear-powered submarines, according to the media release. It also stated that the Australian Department of Defence estimates that more than AUD $10 billion will be needed for facility and infrastructure requirements to prepare for the future nuclear-powered submarines, including the new east coast submarine base. It also stated that Defence will engage with state and local governments to determine the optimal site, which will be informed by the ongoing work of the Nuclear Powered Submarine Taskforce. This initial work is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

In an interview with ABC Radio on Monday, Dutton said that Australia expects a future influx of ship maintenance and support works throughout Australia, not only from Australian ships, but also partner nation ships coming into Australia.

“We’re talking not only about Australian submarines, we’re also talking about significant visits to our country from the Astute-class [submarines]. We had an Astute-class in [Western Australia] only about two months ago. We have the prospect, I think, of significant visits from the United States fleet – not just their submarines – and also the Japanese visits, the British visits of their frigates. I think you’ll see more activity from the Indians. I just think this is the new norm, tragically, because of the uncertainty within the Indo-Pacific and we’ll see that ramp up over the next couple of years,” he said.

Dutton dismissed the prospect of an intermediate submarine class to bridge the gap between Collins class and the future nuclear-powered submarine, saying it was not feasible, “What we don’t want to do is get into an immature design of a third class of subs. Navy is going to be stretched to run the Collins-class into the mid-2040s, on top of the new nuclear-powered submarines. To have a sort of son of Collins or a daughter of Collins, as it’s been referred to, so a third class of submarines, I just don’t think it’s feasible,” he said, adding that a new class would take years to design and build.

Dutton said that buying an existing nuclear-powered submarine design was not possible given that current nuclear-powered submarine construction capacity globally is now at full capacity. He added that the planned upgrades of the Collins would be sufficient until the new nuclear-powered submarines entered service, which he believes will be earlier than the general estimate of a 2040 timeframe.

“There’s been speculation around the 2040s. That’s not my expectation. I think we can build and we can put into service much sooner than the 2040s. But we’re going through an 18-month process at the moment with both the United States and the United Kingdom talking about the transfer of that [intellectual property], talking about the way in which we can build up that capability”, said Dutton who also stated that there would be more to say on the matter in the middle of this year with the next stage of the [Australia, U.K. and U.S.] discussions.

In other developments, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) surface task group involved with the alleged lasing of an Australian P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft on Feb. 17, returned to the military port of Zhanjiang, Guangdong on Thursday last week. The task group is comprised of the destroyer CNS Hefei (174), frigate CNS Huangshan (570), amphibious transport dock CNS Jinggang Shan (999) and replenishment ship CNS Honghu (963). China’s Xinhua news agency reported that the group left Zhanjiang on Feb. 5 and successfully completed combat readiness patrols and offshore training missions in the South China Sea, East Indian Ocean, Western Pacific and other waters. Xinhua also added that the training was a routine part of Southern Theater Command’s annual plan, did not target any specific goals and conformed to relevant international law and accepted practice.

Japan also reported the sighting of another PLAN surface group on Friday, stating that the destroyer CNS Urumqi (118), frigate CNS Yantai (538) and replenishment ship CNS Taihu (889) were sighted 110 km east of Miyako Island and traveled north in the Miyako Strait between Miyako Island and Okinawa heading into the East China Sea. The release by the Joint Staff Office of the Japan Self Defense Force also stated that the replenishment ship JS Hamana (AOE-424) and the minesweeper JS Ukushima (MSC-686) conducted surveillance on the PLAN ships.

Australia Needs Asymmetric Capabilities to Counter China in Indo-Pacific, Former Australian Official Says

Australian political leaders have refocused Canberra’s attention on developing more asymmetric capabilities necessary to fighting a war far from its shores against “high-end competitor” China, a former senior national security adviser to its foreign minister said Tuesday. John Lee, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, described the security situation regarding Taiwan and in […]

Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Hobart (DDG 39) executes a live missile firing off the coast of Hawaii during Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) on Aug. 25, 2020. RAN Photo

Australian political leaders have refocused Canberra’s attention on developing more asymmetric capabilities necessary to fighting a war far from its shores against “high-end competitor” China, a former senior national security adviser to its foreign minister said Tuesday.

John Lee, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, described the security situation regarding Taiwan and in northeast Asia “a lot bleaker” than they were five years ago when, for the first time, maritime concerns dominated an Australian defense white paper.

He added it was “not unrealistic to have a conflict” over self-governing Taiwan in five or six years and any war there would not be confined to the island. China regards the island as a province and has been escalating tensions over its future to include threats of invasion.

Later, Lee said that China, despite its air and immediate naval superiority over Taiwan, “can’t land troops there at an acceptable cost” right now.

By 2020, the Australian government recognized the need to “acquire capabilities to shape and deter” events far from its shores. Adding impetus to the drive to look at national security through a new lens was the increasingly icy relations between Canberra and Beijing over high tariffs and embargoing goods. That same year, the Chinese embassy also presented the Australians with 14 grievances. They ranged from Australia’s anger over how Beijing handled the pandemic to banning telecommunications giant Huawei from its domestic 5G market, to Canberra’s closer military relations with Japan.

Australians in government and the general public were repulsed by the threats “of explicitly punishing [Australia] for your actions.” Lee said nine of the 14 points concerned domestic decisions.

Lee said this was the decision-making framework that led Australia to seek an agreement with the United States and United Kingdom to build nuclear-powered submarines and, more importantly to Canberra, share advanced technologies ranging from cyber to artificial intelligence to unmanned, undersea warfare and hypersonics.

Asymmetric capabilities like unmanned and undersea technologies could be available within a few years. The submarines will take decades to build.

“We’re not in the same league as the Americans and Chinese” when it comes to high-end warfare, but Australia can be an “asymmetric power” to confound Beijing’s planning, Lee said. China has invested heavily in anti-access/area denial technologies to keep the U.S. and its allies at bay in a conflict.

The Chinese “for 30 years have messed up American thinking” on operating freely in the Indo-Pacific region, Lee said, noting Australia can play that role of upending Beijing’s military planning with advanced asymmetric capabilities from drones to undersea technologies.

With that in place, Lee said the Australian government’s existing contract with France to buy diesel-electric submarines and its own existing fleet that could only “operate around our periphery” would not address China’s ambitions to dominate the Indo-Pacific.

“Leasing has to be an option” to fill the timeline gap in undersea readiness, but the submarine does not necessarily have to be an American Virginia-class boat. “We need to learn how to operate them” and maintain them, he said.

Bryan Clark, the Hudson Institute event’s moderator, said another option could be having Australian submarine crews enter the American training pipeline to build a cadre of operators for the future. “Shipyards are backed up” with necessary nuclear maintenance work on existing U.S. aircraft carriers and submarines and would have little time to overhaul vessels destined for Australia.

Upending Beijing’s thinking on security is critical, Henry Sokolski, the executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, said in describing “the long cool war” between China and the democracies. For years, the Chinese have been “interested in breaking up alliances [like those with Australia, Japan and South Korea] and getting into our [United States’ and allies’] minds.”

“We need to work with our other allies [to build trust], so they don’t go their own ways,” he said. An example of that could be coming from South Korea, which wants to acquire nuclear-powered submarines and also wants to be able to enrich uranium for use in civilian power generation.

As for the U.S., that means “we’re really going to have to take more risks” in collaboration with allies in technology transfer. Washington needs to be “thinking much more clearly on things that matter” when deciding what technology it won’t share, rather than automatically pulling down security concerns to block deals that could benefit both parties.

“We need another AUKUS” for allies, “but not submarines,” Sokolski said. Specifically, he suggested closer cooperation between the European Space Agency, the U.K., Japan and the U.S. to “know what’s going on in space” and also among the democracies with Japan on advanced computing where “it is far ahead of us.”

If steps like those were taken, he said they would “Make AUKUS Great Again.”

Australia Ambassador to U.S. Says AUKUS Deal Will ‘Project Power Further Up’ Through Indo-Pacific

The key reason Australia entered into a new security agreement with the United States and United Kingdom that includes building nuclear-powered submarines is “to project power further up” from the homeland, Canberra’s ambassador to Washington said Tuesday. Arthur Simonides, speaking in a Hudson Institute forum, said Australia was also looking at new ways of shaping […]

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG 106) conducts a replenishment-at-sea with HMAS Sirius (O 266) while Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain Sailors watch onward during a bilateral exercise with Royal Australian Navy HMAS Ballarat Strike Group, Oct. 10, 2021. US Navy Photo

The key reason Australia entered into a new security agreement with the United States and United Kingdom that includes building nuclear-powered submarines is “to project power further up” from the homeland, Canberra’s ambassador to Washington said Tuesday.

Arthur Simonides, speaking in a Hudson Institute forum, said Australia was also looking at new ways of shaping the security environment in the Indo-Pacific and for a deterrent against China when acting with allies. He noted Canberra is spending nearly 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product on modernizing its security forces.

He said the three countries reached the September agreement, known as AUKUS, not because Australia feared an “imminent attack” from China, but because of Canberra’s commitment to the rules-based order that has marked post-World War II international relations.

Saying at one point that he didn’t believe the U.S. or western nations were in decline, Simonides said rising powers like China need to understand they “cannot just throw your weight around” to get their way in disputes with lesser nations. He added that democracies like Australia “should preserve [and] protect the sovereignty of all states in the region.”

Simonides praised the Biden administration for realizing the U.S. “cannot do it alone” in deterring Chinese ambitions in the Indo-Pacific. In Australia’s view, AUKUS “complements all the other arrangements” that Canberra has. Among those arrangements, he named the “Five Eyes” military intelligence sharing between New Zealand, Canada, the U.S. and U.K. He said this sharing “has proven to be very valuable” to all members since World War II. He added it continues to build greater cooperation in other areas of security and defense and enhances the interoperability of their armed forces.

On the nuclear-powered submarine aspect of the treaty, he said Canberra is committed to “what’s best for Australia” be it based on an American or British design, with the goal of building the boats in south Australia.

He compared the next year to 18 months as Lego-building as the project moves forward. This includes examining the available workforce, shipyard capacity and understanding that Australia is entering this “without having a civil nuclear engineering” force on hand.

“So watch this space,” Simonides said.

The nuclear-powered submarine, because of its extended range and lethality, “is the most important priority” for Canberra under AUKUS. Simonides added that over the time it takes to settle on the nuclear-powered submarine design and the decade of construction, Australia will overhaul and modernize its six diesel-electric Collins-class boats.

To Australians, “AUKUS is a mechanism” where its advances in cyber, artificial intelligence and quantum computing can be “brought to the table” with allies. Using cyber as the example, Simonides said the three nations should be asking themselves “what are the exact priorities” they want in this domain and how each nation’s work can complement that of others. “What are the Brits doing; what is the U.S. doing,” he asked rhetorically, calling it “a process of discovery.”

As for future relations with Beijing, Simonides said, “we don’t want to be just frozen” in a retaliatory trade war with China. Australia “wants to normalize relations,” he said. China this year imposed high tariffs on Australian imports and an embargo on goods from coal to wine to steel in retaliation for Canberra pressing Beijing on the origin of the COVID-19 virus.

He added Australia’s earlier moves controlling who is granted 5G rights to its telecommunications network and cracking down on Chinese attempts to influence national politics were examples of Canberra “seeking to stand up and protect our sovereignty.”

“We can’t take a step backwards,” Simonides said.

China accounts for about 40 percent of Australia’s goods’ exports.

Simonides said, “we want the WTO [World Trade Organization] to be as strong as possible to enforce the rules” of open markets and transparency.

U.S. Needs ‘Resilient’ Strategy to Counter China, Russia in Arctic, Experts Say

The United States “needs resilient people and resilient equipment” to meet mounting security and economic challenges posed by Russia and China, according to a panel of Arctic security experts. Moscow’s vision of the Far North as “the Russian Mecca” and Beijing’s ambitious Polar Silk Road initiative present economic obstacles to the United States, the experts […]

The aurora borealis over Ice Camp Seadragon during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2020. US Navy Photo

The United States “needs resilient people and resilient equipment” to meet mounting security and economic challenges posed by Russia and China, according to a panel of Arctic security experts.

Moscow’s vision of the Far North as “the Russian Mecca” and Beijing’s ambitious Polar Silk Road initiative present economic obstacles to the United States, the experts said.

Speaking Tuesday, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Randy Kee said the Arctic had proven to be a region “where technology is always challenged” by extremes. The severe conditions make military operations “quite demanding and quite challenging.” This remains the case now as temperatures climb and cause sea levels to rise globally, coupled with more violent weather conditions. It also makes the Northern Sea Route, which Russia claims as its own, more attractive as a shipping route to Europe, especially for China. It opens the Arctic to more mineral and natural resource exploration and exploitation, another Chinese goal of diversifying its energy suppliers.

On the security front, Kee, now with the Wilson Center, said the best way to “ameliorate the challenges is through partnership agreements” – such as NATO and NORAD with the Canadians – and keeping an airbase in Thule, Greenland. While he underlined interoperability with partners and the need for investment in research and development, he added, “exercises [are] a critical element … where we stress the force.”

While saying exercises like Trident Juncture were important building blocks to show presence, Kee said “we need to return to scale” on the magnitude of the Cold War’s Rimfrost Exercises to address the new military situation and climate changes.

Kee, speaking during a Hudson Institute online forum, added that the services’ Arctic strategies “will categorize the challenges and opportunities” in the region.

Among those security challenges to Washington and allies are Russia’s dual-track approach in the Arctic — building ports and airfields that can be used for civilian purposes for energy production and shipment, tourism and transpolar commercial shipping, as well as military power projection – according to Hudson’s Richard Weitz.

“The Arctic is the fourth wall” in Russia’s security thinking, he said. Unlike its western, eastern and southern borders, Moscow can operate “without having to compete with others” in the Far North. It is by far the largest nation in the Arctic.

As a sign of how important the Arctic has become, the Kremlin is designating the region as its Fifth Military District. It has moved Mig-31 fighters into airfields there and deployed hypersonic missiles, while it is hardening coastal defense ships that are capable of operating in ice as weapons platforms.

Moreover, the Kola Peninsula is the major home port of the Russian ballistic missile submarine fleet, said Hudson’s Bryan Clark. It could also be a region where the Chinese operate from.

“Monitoring for [submarine activity] is important,” but the United States Navy only operates in the Far North in the most favorable conditions, Clark said. Its surface fleet is not ice-hardened. Clark suggested large undersea unmanned vehicles with towed array sensors coupled with the passive Sound Surveillance Systems [SOSUS] would be ways to monitor submarine activity heading toward the Atlantic.

Clark also noted another Russian military advantage in the Arctic. Because satellite communications are spotty and there are few sensors in the region, a Russian electronic warfare attack “can easily blind” the few operating there. “They don’t have a lot of resilience,” he said. Those facts make electronic warfare “more of a concern than in other regions” that need to be addressed. Again, he suggested unmanned aerial systems for sensing and communications as a way to build resilience. But there’s “not a lot of demand” for that kind of investment, Clark said.

As a safety measure, particularly as merchant and potentially cruise ship transits increase, Clark said deploying an expeditionary sea base vessel would help search and rescue missions and also cut time and distance needed to care for the sick and injured.

The lack of ice-hardened surface vessels in the Navy and the Coast Guard, which now operates only one heavy and one medium icebreaker, make Freedom of Navigation operations challenging Russian territorial claims difficult. The few American Coast Guard ships available also limit strict enforcement of fishing, mineral exploration and other regulations in the American Exclusive Economic Zone, the panel agreed.

As for China’s approach, Weitz said instead of being confrontational as it was six years ago by demanding recognition as a special case in Arctic affairs, Beijing is “emphasizing win-win.” The Polar Silk Road is pushing infrastructure investment, including laying undersea communication cables, as well as ports, airports and highways “to build leverage” and to influence smaller nations in the Arctic like Greenland. It has also stepped up its research and scientific efforts in the region.

In a 2018 White Paper, Weitz clearly states “China has a role” – from shipping routes to climate and mineral development – although it is 1,000 kilometers from the Arctic.