Australia's hasty nuclear submarine plan to be outpaced by China's development: experts
Published: Feb 08, 2022 10:56 PM
The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, US.  Photo: Xinhua

The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, US. File Photo: Xinhua

In an attempt to contain China, Australian Defense Minister recently said that Australia could get the first nuclear submarine under the framework of AUKUS before 2038. However, Chinese military experts said on Tuesday that this delivery schedule is too hasty and China's rapid development during this period will outpace the Australian one.

Australian Defense Minister, Peter Dutton, recently said that he was extremely confident that Australia would have its first nuclear-powered submarine before 2038, adding that recent discussions with the US and UK officials under the AUKUS agreement had reassured him that the submarines would be built years earlier than many defense experts expected, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Monday.

One of the key projects of AUKUS, a new alliance by Australia, the UK and the US announced in September 2021, is to equip Australia with nuclear submarines in an attempt to contain China.

When the AUKUS agreement was announced, an 18-month process was launched by all members to figure out the best way to deliver Australia nuclear submarines, according to the report by the Sydney Morning Herald.

"From a technological perspective, it is possible that Australia could get its first nuclear submarine by 2038 since the US and the UK are indeed capable of building this kind of submarine," Zhang Junshe, a senior research fellow at the Naval Research Academy of the People's Liberation Army, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

However, the question remains on exactly what kind of nuclear submarine Australia will get.

If, for example, the US is willing to sell its off-the-rack Virginia-class submarine or transfer its technology and production lines to Australia, then, 2038 is possible. But, if the three countries are thinking about a customized or a completely new submarine, which is more likely in this case due to the high sensitivity of this kind of military hardware, it will likely take longer, analysts said.

"2038 sounds hasty to design and build a new nuclear submarine for a country with no experience, even with technology transfer," a Chinese military expert who requested to remain anonymous told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Australia is not a nuclear power and the plan by the US and the UK to grant Australia nuclear-powered submarines increases the risks of nuclear proliferation and an arms race, experts said.

"From a political point of view, the three countries would also have to face the pressure from the international community to meet that schedule," Zhang said, adding that "even if Australia does get the nuclear submarine, it will not be such a big threat to China, since war cannot be won with just one or two types of weapons."

"China's national defense development has been on a fast track and is expected to continue advancing. By 2038, China will likely have sufficient means to safeguard its security interests from Australia's nuclear submarine," the anonymous source told the Global Times.

Dutton also said that Australia and its allies will "lose the next decade" unless they stand up to China in the South China Sea, as the US and others "acquiesced and allowed the militarization to the point where China has 20 points of presence in the South China Sea.

China did not militarize the South China Sea, as all Chinese presence in the region serves only to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity, the expert said, noting that countries from outside of the region like the US, which have been sending warships and warplanes, are the real ones responsible for the militarization in the South China Sea.