How nuclear submarines will be a game-changer in the Indo-Pacific

TeaThe heads of state of the US, Britain and Australia will meet in San Diego, California, on Monday amid reports that Canberra plans to bolster its naval capabilities with nuclear-powered submarines, as part of a trilateral defense deal To counter this, increasing threat from China in the Indo-Pacific region

Visiting Ahmedabad, India, on Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed he would meet with US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, but spoke little about submarines.

Reuters first reported on Wednesday that Canberra would buy five Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines from the US over the next decade as part of the AUKUS pact between the three countries. Other recent reports claim that Australia plans to develop a new class of nuclear-powered submarines based on the British Astute-class design, which may include parts from the US. Absolutely maintain our sovereignty, our absolute sovereignty, 100%.

The Virginia-class is the latest fast attack submarine in the US Navy, set to replace the aging Los Angeles-class submarine fleet. According to the US Navy, the fast attack submarines can be equipped with multiple payloads, and can carry out intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions as well as fire torpedoes and cruise missiles.

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Nuclear-powered submarines are considered superior because they can stay underwater for longer periods of time, and only six countries currently have them. Australia receiving a fleet of these vessels has been a focal point of the AUKUS partnership since it was announced in 2021, after the country ended an earlier deal with France for diesel-powered undersea craft. Nevertheless, the three member-states of AUKUS had yet to figure out how to transfer the technology for the submarines to Australia.

A naval game-changer – at last

Many observers believe that the purchase of these nuclear-powered submarines will be vital to Australia’s military power. In a February speech, Albanese himself described the AUKUS agreement as “the biggest leap forward in our defense capability in our history”.

Carl Thayer, professor emeritus of politics at the University of New South Wales-Canberra, told TIME that the submarines are a “game-changer” for Australia by giving its military long-range firepower, making it more interoperable with the US fleet . and UK

Australia currently deploys a fleet of six conventional Collins-class diesel-powered submarines launched between 1996 and 2003. Over the past decade, several Australian governments tried to find ways to modernize the fleet, before settling with the AUKUS treaty.

But Thayer cautions that procuring these nuclear-powered submarines will not be a simple process – given Australia’s lack of nuclear technicians, a solid nuclear and shipbuilding industry, defense infrastructure and trained personnel to man these ships. .

“Australia has less than 50 crew members on its current Collins-class. You’re almost double that with the Astute and you’re going over 100 with the Virginia class,” says Thayer. “It’s a tough slog. It is going to happen.”

Jingdong Yuan, a professor at the China Studies Center at the University of Sydney, speculated to Time that Australia could eventually have a functional fleet of these nuclear-powered submarines, taking it even further than the reported target of 2040.

how will china react

China has long voiced its opposition to the AUKUS treaty, claiming that the Western alliance triggers the risk of nuclear proliferation in the region, fosters a Cold War-like mentality, and harms stability in the region. That said, Colin Koh, a naval affairs expert and research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, believes that China uses the treaty to justify its own military investments, which are already were walking

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Koh told Time, “They may have prepared a response but nothing is going to change with regard to their ongoing defense build-up.”

Beijing is also expected to turn to neighbors in Southeast Asia to garner support against the development – although the region has been quiet for the most part. In 2021, Indonesia and Malaysia expressed concerns over Australia’s future nuclear-powered submarines, but Koh says security relations between those two countries and AUKUS-member states have warmed since the agreement was announced. “I think it reflects much broader concerns about China,” Koh said.

Still, China is unlikely to retaliate immediately. Australia’s purchase of nuclear-powered submarines will only add to Beijing’s growing security threats from other regional agreements, such as the Quad – a security dialogue that Australia and the US have with India and Japan. But knowing that building up the fleet will take time, coupled with the fact that China’s diplomatic relations with Australia have warmed under Albania, will probably undercut any concerted military response from Beijing, says Yuan. “Instead of doing anything that might harm [or] Damage to existing relatively stable bilateral relations. I think the Chinese can and will comment more and more.”

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