On March 13, Joe Biden and British and Australian leaders unveiled a major deal on nuclear-powered submarines for the Australian Navy. For Alain Oudot de Dainville and Alain Bovis, from the Naval Academy, the European Union is thus marginalized.
As announced eighteen months ago, the three partners of the AUKUS pact (United States, United Kingdom, Australia) unveiled on March 13 from the American naval base in San Diego, the architecture of their future cooperation on nuclear-powered submarines. The White House press release, while giving the tenor of this program, the gigantic scope of which only appears the better, expresses a certain number of conditions, the fulfillment of which will raise significant difficulties.
It is clear that the United States and the United Kingdom have found a funder to significantly strengthen their naval presence in the South Pacific, as well as to consolidate their national programs and their defense industrial base, while Australia loses all sovereignty on a major component of its island security, its submarine force.
According to the Australian Prime Minister , whose frankness is hailed by the local press, the program could cost up to 368 billion Australian dollars (230 billion euros) over the next thirty years, i.e. twice the estimated cost of building the 12 future US Navy strategic ballistic missile submarines, for a country whose GDP is half that of France.
These submarines should incorporate a significant amount of American technology.Alain Oudot de Dainville and Alain Bovis
Because Australia will pay a lot. It will initially build a base in Perth capable of permanently accommodating a British submarine and up to 4 American submarines from 2027, circumventing in passing, under the pretext of training Australian sailors, its principle politically significant ban on foreign military bases.
Secondly, the United Kingdom having given up on extending the series of Astute-type submarines, Australia will buy between 3 and 5 used American submarines from 2034, the start of the withdrawal from service of the first Virginia -class buildings . These submarines will have to undergo a major overhaul to extend their lifespan, including a delicate change of nuclear core. It is unlikely that the US Navy will separate, even facially, from new major strategic units which it is struggling to achieve, despite vigorous and repeated encouragement from Congress, the target it has set itself.
However, these submarines, withdrawn from service in the American navy, will remain under its complete control, because being of the same type as part of the American submarine fleet, the United States will therefore have to manage the consequences of any incident.
Finally, Australia will co-finance the construction of future British submarines which will now take the name of AUKUS Class, delivered to the Royal Navy from the end of the 2030s and to Australia from the beginning of the 2040s, these assembled in an Australian shipyard to be created with personnel to be trained. These submarines should incorporate a large part of American technology, firstly the combat system which was already the case on previous Australian submarines and would, incidentally, be a loss of skills for the British, and secondly the nuclear reactor, a technology that the United Kingdom no longer masters without the help of the United States.
Australia will also have to finance capacity extensions in British and American shipyards and their subcontractors in “fair proportion” of the approximately 6 billion dollars already invested by these two nations.
The Australian Ministry of Defense announces that the program will create 20,000 direct jobs, including 8,500 in the submarine forces. In an economy that is experiencing strong structural tensions on the job market and a Navy, which today has significant recruitment difficulties, the challenge is daunting.
From a strategic point of view, it confirms Australia’s loss of autonomy within the American military system in the Pacific in the context of an increasingly aggressive China.Alain Oudot de Dainville and Alain Bovis
Finally, any provision of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia will remain subject to the agreement of the American Congress, whose historical proximity with the US Navy, which is itself extremely reluctant to any nuclear cooperation, is well known. Authorization will therefore be dependent on an exhaustive set of demonstrations of Australia’s autonomous capacity to guarantee total nuclear safety by setting up an organization, infrastructure and skills whose ramp-up trajectory remains to be presented credibly.
The disclosure of this program leaves open the questions raised a year and a half ago. From a strategic point of view, it confirms Australia’s loss of autonomy within the American military posture in the Pacific in the context of an increasingly aggressive China . The Anglo-Saxon alliance and the arms race it entails continue to fuel the fears of the “non-aligned” in the region, Malaysia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Pacific States. Despite the long advocacy of the White House, the ambiguity vis-à-vis the nuclear proliferation treaty remains, Australia not having access to nuclear fuel, while being responsible for its management and committing to keep it after use, but prohibiting its reprocessing…
After a year 2022, where Russia and Ukraine took center stage, American strategy confirms that the priority remains Asia. China had taken advantage of the relative disinterest of the past year in the Indo-Pacific theater to make an agreement with the Solomon Islands and have a foothold in the Pacific branch of the penetration of its influence . The United States had tried to regain control at the summit of the Pacific Islands convened in September in Washington, but without much success. With the AUKUS 2 agreement, they forcefully reaffirm their desire to contain China within its borders. The European Union, marginalized, unfortunately confirms that she cannot see further than the end of her continent. In this theater where part of the future is at stake, France can respond to the British cooperation advances proposed in the IR 23 Strategic Review for the defense of its interests which will indirectly become those of the Union.
Source: Le Figaro