Australia reluctant to acquire British nuclear submarines

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Australia is losing interest about buying British nuclear submarines and is moving towards the ones made in America, claimed ex-defence minister Peter Dutton. Mr Dutton, who was defence minister until 10 months ago and led the decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, reportedly said that he has been told about a number of problems in opting for a British submarine.

Issues include a lack of production capacity in the UK and other compatibility issues about how compatible a British-designed submarine would be with those operated by Australia’s closest defence ally, the US.

According to a news report, America’s larger and latest operational nuclear-powered submarine, the Virginia-class is the UK’s rival.

Mr Dutton’s comment came after Anthony Albanese, the prime minister, gears up to travel to Washington this month.

He alongside President Biden and Rishi Sunak is likely to reveal the “optimal pathway” for Australia to replace its ageing fleet of locally built diesel-electric submarines.

Under the Aukus defence pact Australia signed with the UK and the US in late 2021, Australia will acquire eight nuclear-powered submarines of either US or British design and technology or possibly a combination of both, reported The Times.

The vessels are expected to cost about $AUD100 billion (£56 billion).

However, Mr Dutton’s comment did not go down well with Australia’s defence minister, Pat Conroy, who accused the ex-defence minister of undermining confidence in the new submarine programme and suggested he had misused classified information he had received while defence minister.

Mr Conroy told The Times: “He [Dutton] is either being mischievous or he’s not privy to the latest information.

“I have just come back from Barrow in the United Kingdom where I have got a full briefing on what the UK is doing.

“I think those comments from Peter Dutton are incredibly irresponsible.

“This was a man who received classified briefings up until May 21 on this programme.”

The comments by Mr Dutton followed an article he wrote last June revealing that while defence minister he believed the US government would sell Australia two Virginia-class nuclear submarines from its Connecticut production line by 2030, with a further eight to be built in Australia.

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He added this week he was briefed before last May’s election that Rolls-Royce, which makes reactors for British nuclear submarines, had no available production capacity, while the UK’s submarine production facility at Barrow-in-Furness “didn’t have the ability to scale up”.

There has been widespread speculation that Australia, which is not expected to take delivery of its first nuclear-powered submarines until the late 2030s, has been closely examining the UK’s latest Astute-class submarine, which became operational in 2014.

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