US, UK submarines to use WA base after Australian PM Albanese announces details of $368 billion nuclear sub deal
(See translation in Arabic section)
Sydney - Middle East Times Int’l: Australia’s nuclear submarine program will cost up to $368 billion over 30 years with the federal government to buy at least three US submarines and pay $3 billion to UK and US shipyards.
The Australian Government will take three, potentially second-hand Virginia-class submarines early next decade, pending US Congress approval, with an option to buy another two under the AUKUS defence and security pact.
The decision was announced in San Diego at a media conference attended by the AUKUS leaders -- Australian PM Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – at San Diego’s Naval Base Point Loma.
Development work will also continue on a new submarine, known as the SSN-AUKUS, based on work the British are doing to replace their Astute-class submarines.
That submarine class will be operated by the UK and Australia but using American combat systems.
One submarine is to be built every two years from the early 2040s to the late 2050s, with five SSN-AUKUS boats delivered to the Royal Australian Navy by the middle of the 2050s.
Eventually, the fleet would include eight Australian submarines built in Adelaide but the federal government has an option to take some from British shipyards.
Meanwhile, the federal government estimates the cost of the program at $268-$368 billion over 30 years with $8 billion to be spent on upgrading the naval base of HMAS Stirling in Western Australia.
From as early as 2027, four US and one UK submarine will start rotating through Western Australia while no decision has been made on a future east coast base for submarines.
US President Biden spoke of the strength of the alliance.
"Today, as we stand at the inflection point in history, where the hard work of announcing deterrence and enhancing stability is going to reflect peace and stability for decades to come, the US can ask for no better partners in the Indo-Pacific where so much of our shared future will be written," he said.
US SUBS OFF AUSTRALIAN COAST
President Biden flagged that, from this year, Australian navy personnel would embed with US and UK crew on submarines and at their shipyards.
"In fact, as we speak, a nuclear-powered sub is making a port call in Perth and later this year, there will be a rotational presence of nuclear-powered subs to Australia to help develop the workforce it will need to build," he said.
Mr Albanese confirmed that Australian submariners were already undergoing nuclear power training in the US.
"I am proud to confirm that they are all in the top 30 per cent of their class," he said.
"This will be an Australian sovereign capability, commanded by the Royal Australian Navy and sustained by Australians in Australian shipyards, with construction to begin within this decade."
Mr Albanese reiterated that Australia’s nuclear submarines would not breach their non-proliferation treaty obligations.
Mr Sunak described the alliance as a "powerful partnership".
"The Royal Navy will operate the same submarines as the Australian Navy and we'll both share components and parts with the US Navy," he said.
"Our submarine crews will train together, patrol together and maintain their boats together. They will communicate using the same terminology, and the same equipment."
MONEY FOR US SHIPYARDS
Australia will also contribute $3 billion over the next four years to US and UK production lines, with the bulk of that money heading to the US.
White House officials insisted Australia was preparing to make a "substantial contribution" to US submarine production facilities.
The US government will also request an extra $US4.6 billion from Congress to upgrade the nation's submarine infrastructure with a concession that the readiness of American production lines are "not where it should be".
"More will be needed, and the Australians will also contribute there, so this is a generational opportunity," a senior official said.
Included in its overall project budget, Australia will spend $2 billion over the next four years upgrading the Osborne shipyards in South Australia.
The purchase of Virginia-class submarines was described by American officials as "a potent nuclear powered submarine force in the 2030s, much earlier than many had expected".
Ashley Townshend from the Carnegie Endowment — an international affairs think tank — said Australia's move to acquire Virginia-class submarines was "far more than a stopgap measure".
"These are by far the most-capable submarines Australia ever operated and the first to incorporate the capacity for long-range strike with vertically launched Tomahawk-land attack cruise missiles," he said.
He also said the announcement that the US and UK would build a rotational force of five submarines at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia would have profound implications.
"This is by far the most significant near-term contribution by AUKUS to strengthening deterrence in the Western Pacific," Mr Townsend said.