09 Jun 2016
Navy urged to ready for future featuring nuclear submarines
Australia has been urged to start preparing now for the possible introduction of nuclear-powered submarines to the navy’s fleet — and that could include asking the US to start training Australian crews.
Peter Jennings, a former senior Defence official who was a key adviser on the Turnbull government’s white paper, writes for The Australian today that the huge distance nuclear submarines can cover makes them suitable for Australia’s needs.
When the decision was made for the navy to have 12 diesel-electric submarines to replace its six Collins-class boats, buying nuclear-powered vessels was not an option.
French company DCNS will provide Australia with a conventional version of its nuclear-powered Barracuda submarine.
“We would not have been in a position to operate a nuclear submarine this time around because of the lack of training and safety regimes,” said Mr Jennings, who heads the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank.
To have nuclear submarines by the mid-2040s, decisions would have to be made now, he said. “It will take that long to make sure we have all the dominoes in place.”
The process would only be possible with bipartisan political and community support.
The US, the French and the British were all potential partners, Mr Jennings said.
“None of them is going to hand over nuclear propulsion without Australia demonstrating that it is serious about this and has the capacity to handle it,” he said.
The navy should develop a training program with the US, French or British navies to allow Australian submariners to operate nuclear propulsion systems, he said, and Defence should discuss with the US the possibility of seconding significant numbers of RAN personnel into the US Navy.
“In 2016, Australia has no viable option other than conventional propulsion for our future submarines because the navy, the wider defence establishment and Australia’s industry and infrastructure are simply not at the right level of capability to crew, operate and support nuclear-propelled submarines,” Mr Jennings said.