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  • Rovindu Ambagolla

Digital Friday >>> Nuclear Technology & the AU-UK-US Deal: What You Should Know

Picture credit: CNN Website

Australia recently announced its new collaboration with the US and UK to develop defense ties and to supply Australia with nuclear powered submarines. The new agreement was named “Aukus”. The purpose of this new alliance is to work together to create “stability” in the Indo-Pacific regions where China is increasing its naval activity.

Australia’s decision to switch suppliers means that their $90 billion agreement with France has been discarded. With the French contract the Australian fleet would have expanded by 12 diesel powered submarines. However, they ultimately scrapped the deal they had with France and instead opted for the American and British nuclear submarines.

Picture credits: CNN website

The main difference between these two models of submarines has to do with their propulsion systems. The diesel-powered submarine is smaller but is much quieter as it can turn off its diesel engine and just run on the battery instead. However, these submarines will have to resurface frequently to run the diesel engine and recharge the batteries.

The nuclear submarines however are much more versatile. Their batteries can be charged by onboard nuclear reactors, or the heat itself from the nuclear reactors can be used to generate steam that spins the turbine.

This enables nuclear submarines to also have a much larger range than traditional submarines. Nuclear submarines have the capability to power itself for 30 years and they would only have to resurface to restock on supplies and for maintenance.

- UK-made Astute nuclear submarines Picture source:

These new nuclear submarines will also grant Australia’s navy access to an arsenal of new weapons capabilities. Tomahawk missiles, MK48 torpedoes and LRASM missiles are a few new types of weapons that Australia will now have access to. Eric Sayers, a defense expert at the American Enterprise Institute commented “Tomahawk opens the door to long-range attacks on land targets, including integrated air defense systems, missile defense systems, and destruction of aircraft hangers”.

-MK48 torpedoes Picture Source: Wikipedia

However, access to such heavy firepower will come with an extremely hefty price tag. Australia doesn’t currently have the proper infrastructure to run nuclear submarines, so they require years of significant support as well as a direct supply of nuclear fuel.

The current prime minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, expects the first submarine to be built in 2040. The UK-made Astute nuclear submarines will take decades to construct. As one defense expert comments this is because submarines are “the most complex human-made machines, even more complex than a space shuttle”. “You have a nuclear reactor in the back, high explosives in the front and in the middle, a hotel where people live, and everything is submerged for months at a time”.

September 24th 2021 | 12:00 PM

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