To protect itself from US hostility, Australia decides to buy US submarines
by Michael Brenner on 24 Sep 2021 5 Comments

The New York Times headlines a story by David E. Sanger that purports to provide us with the ‘hidden agenda’ behind Biden’s stab-in-the-back of France. He claims Washington’s motivation was its perceived strategic imperative that Australia be endowed with nuclear-powered submarines that could sneak up the Chinese coast and do serious damage in support of American assaults. The conventionally powered French submarines for which Canberra contracted are said to be too slow and noisy.


But France’s own submarines are nuclear powered with performance at par with American submarines. Australia, though, insisted on non-nuclear boats because they would be cheaper; parts of the construction could be sub-contracted to Australian firms that lack the technological and industrial capability to manufacture the nuclear version; and Australia never imagined going to war with China.


Once again, an American President is lying to us about a grave matter of war and peace. Biden’s team is bent on a confrontation with China that runs a heavy risk of war. And the war will be NUCLEAR!



Yesterday [September 19, 2021] the US, the UK and Australia announced that the latter will buy nuclear powered submarines to do the US’ bidding against China: Australia’s next submarine fleet will be nuclear-powered under an audacious plan that will see a controversial $90 billion program to build up to 12 French-designed submarines scrapped.


The ABC understands Australia will use American and British technology to configure its next submarine fleet in a bid to replace its existing Collins class subs with a boat more suitable to the deteriorating strategic environment. This is a huge but short term win for the US with an also-ran booby price for Britain and a strategic loss of sovereignty and budget control for Australia.


It is another US slap into the face of France and the European Union. The deal will piss off New Zealand, Indonesia and of course China. It will upset the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and may lead to the further military nuclearization of South Korea and Japan.


Australia currently has 6 Collins class submarines. These are diesel driven boats based on Swedish designs but partially built in Australia. These boats are relatively slow and have a medium range and endurance. They were built between 1990 and 2003 and are mostly for defensive use. There was lots of trouble during the building of the boats as Australia lacks the technical capabilities and industrial depth to make such complicated products. The operational history of boats is also rather mixed with several scandals following each other. The boats are supposed to be upgraded to be in use for another decade.


In the 2010s, Australia began to look for a new generation of submarines. After a long discussion, it decided to stick to conventionally powered boats. The new subs were again to be built in Australia after a foreign design.


Germany, Japan and France were asked for proposals. The French state-owned ship builder Naval Group (DCNS) won the race for 12 new boats and the €50 billion contract. Ironically, the French conventionally-driven Shortfin Barracuda design France offered is based on its own nuclear-driven Barracuda class design. For Australia, France had therefore to design a conventional power plant for a submarine that was originally designed, as all French subs are, to run on a nuclear reactor with low enriched uranium (LEU). It was quite obvious that this unusual conversion would run into difficulties and time delays.


Back in June, Peter Lee, aka China hand, wrote about the delayed program: The program is officially “troubled” and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a confab with French president Macron to try to get the project back on track. Although the contract was signed in 2016, construction hasn’t begun yet, and the first submarine under the program won’t be launched for another decade. At least.


This does not fit well with the Australian navy’s declared ambition to fling its armed might against a PRC invasion of Taiwan that might happen in the next few years, so there’s all sorts of flailing go on, including talk of spending a few billion dollars to upgrade the current Collins class fleet of submarines as a stopgap, or even rush-procuring some German subs.


There’s also some talk of cancelling, threatening to cancel, and/or modifying the attack submarine contract to do better. And maybe steer the project toward Germany or back to America’s choice, Japan.


Well – it turns out that ‘America’s choice’ builder for Australia’s submarines was not Japan but the US itself. We now learn that talks about ditching the contract with French in favor of US built nuclear-driven boats already started in April 2020 and were finalized during a US, Australian, British summit in early June 2021. This was before Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with the French President Macron to get the French-Australian project back on track!


What the PM didn’t tell Macron over that long dinner in Paris - and perhaps why the French President might be particularly miffed - is that Morrison had, just a day or so before, already reached an informal agreement with United States President Joe Biden and British PM Boris Johnson for an extension of a nuclear technology sharing agreement. This revelation brings a new complexion to the tripartite meeting in Carbis Bay in Cornwall on June 12 between the two PMs and the US President....


The ABC understands the federal government began exploring the nuclear-powered submarine option about 18 months ago when Linda Reynolds was still defence minister. Moreover on August 30 the French and Australian Foreign and Defense Ministers had met and issued a common declaration on bilateral cooperation in a number of policy fields. This included defense cooperation:

“Both sides committed to deepen defence industry cooperation and enhance their capability edge in the region. Ministers underlined the importance of the Future Submarine program. They agreed to strengthen military scientific research cooperation through a strategic partnership between the Defence Science and Technology Group and the Directorate General for Armaments”.


Just sixteen days later, France learned that it lost a huge defence contract due a 180 degree turn around by its Australian ‘partner’. It is no wonder then that the French are fuming: The French government has hit out Australia’s decision to tear up a submarine deal with France worth more than €50 billion to instead acquire American-made nuclear-powered submarines.

“It’s a stab in the back. We had established a trusting relationship with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a Franceinfo interview Thursday morning. Le Drian added he was “angry and very bitter about this break up,” adding that he had spoken to his Australian counterpart days ago and received no serious indication of the move.


Under a deal announced Wednesday by US President Joe Biden, Australia, the UK and the US will form a new alliance to be known as AUKUS, which will see the three countries share advanced technologies with one another. As part of the new pact, Canberra will abandon its submarine deal with France.


The French, correctly, blame the US for this decision: In a statement released before the interview, Le Drian and Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said: “This decision is contrary to the letter and spirit of the cooperation that prevailed between France and Australia.”


The statement continued: “The American choice to push aside an ally and European partner like France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region ... shows a lack of consistency France can only note and regret.”


The French ambassador to the US was a bit more subtle with this zinger:

Philippe Etienne @Ph_Etienne - 2:43 UTC • Sep 16, 2021

“Interestingly, exactly 240 years ago the French Navy defeated the British Navy in Chesapeake Bay, paving the way for the victory at Yorktown and the independence of the United States”.


There are some military reasons to prefer nuclear submarines over diesel driven ones if one plans to lay siege on a foreign coast far away from one’s own one. Nuclear submarines (SSN) are faster and can stay on station much longer than diesel driven boats (SSK).


But there are also many negative issues with nuclear boats. They are larger and more expensive than conventional ones. The cost nearly 50% more. They also require dedicated infrastructure and very specialized nuclear training for the crews. Australia has neither nor can it supply the necessary fuel for the nuclear reactors.


The price for the new submarines Australia will have to pay will be much higher that for the French ones. Some $3 billion have already been sunk into the French contract. France will rightfully demand additional compensation for cancelling it. The new contract with the US or UK will cost more than the French one but will only include 8 instead of 12 boats. As three boats are needed to keep one at sea (while the other two are training or in refit), the actual patrolling capacity for Australia’s navy will sink from 4 to 2-3 concurrent submarines at sea. The much higher price of the fewer more complicated boats will upset Australia’s defense budget for decades to come.


If going to nuclear propulsion was Australia’s sole reason for changing the horse it could have stuck to the original French Barracuda design. This has the advantage of using low enriched uranium which is commercially available. There would be no Australian dependency on France for new fuel supplies. The British and US boats use nuclear reactors with highly enriched uranium (HEU >60%). As Australia has now decided to buy those boats it will forever be dependent on those suppliers.


The non-proliferation crowd and the IAEA will be up in arms over the deal. How much supervision will there be over the HEU? Who will have access to it? Nuclear-driven submarines are also perceived as offensive weapons, not as reasonable defensive ones. There are more countries on this map than just China.


That Australia, with just 25 million inhabitants, is buying nuclear-driven attack subs will not be welcome by its ten times larger northern neighbor, Indonesia. Other neighboring countries, like New Zealand, reject any use of nuclear fuel and will not allow ships or boats using it into their harbors.


The new contract will also upset Australian plans for manufacturing the boats on its own soil. While the French design was ready to start the actual building phase at the beginning of next year, the whole submarine project will now go into a new 18 month long definition phase after which actual contracts will have to be negotiated and signed. Meanwhile, the hundreds of Australian engineers who moved to France to help with the design and specialists who were hired by Naval Group in Australia will have to be cared for. Australia does not have many people with such knowledge. What are they going to do until the new project actually starts?


The UK will offer Australia to buy British made Astute class submarines while the US is likely to offer the smaller version of its Virginia class submarines. As both countries have active production lines for these it will not make any economic sense to build more than some small parts for these in Australia itself. The US will use all pressure that is necessary to make sure that its offer will win the race. A hint of that is that Australia also announced that it will acquire long-range US Tomahawk missiles to be used with the subs.


The first of the French boats for Australia was expected to be ready in the early 2030s. There will now be a long delay of perhaps a decade for Australia to get new boats. Its current Collins class will require more than an ordinary refit to be sustained that long. That is going to be expensive. The Germans may want to jump into that gap by offering their Type 214 submarines with hydrogen driven propulsion. While these boats are much smaller, they offer a long endurance, can be supplied reasonably fast and come for a much cheaper price than the nuclear driven ones.


Altogether I do not see any advantage for Australia in this move. What then is the reason to take that step? It is called blackmail. China is by far Australia’s largest trading partner. US and Australian ‘strategists’ claim that the submarines are need to protect Australia’s maritime trade routes with its largest trading partner... China. That makes zero sense.


The only reason Australia has turned politically and militarily against China is US blackmail. Two years ago the US ‘realist’ political scientist John Mearsheimer came to Australia to explain to Australians how that works. As Caitlin Johnstone summarizes:

“Now some people say there’s an alternative: you can go with China,” said Mearsheimer. “Right you have a choice here: you can go with China rather the United States. There’s two things I’ll say about that. Number one, if you go with China you want to understand you are our enemy. You are then deciding to become an enemy of the United States. Because again, we’re talking about an intense security competition.”


“You’re either with us or against us,” he continued. “And if you’re trading extensively with China, and you’re friendly with China, you’re undermining the United States in this security competition. You’re feeding the beast, from our perspective. And that is not going to make us happy. And when we are not happy you do not want to underestimate how nasty we can be. Just ask Fidel Castro.”


Nervous laughter from the Australian think tank audience punctuated Mearsheimer’s more incendiary observations. The CIA is known to have made numerous attempts to assassinate Castro. So there you have it. Australia is not aligned with the US to protect itself from China. Australia is aligned with the US to protect itself from the US.


Joe Biden may have forgotten the name of the Australian Prime Minister. But Scott Morrison knows who he is expected to work for. In 1975, the US and the UK launched a coup against Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam who was moving his country towards independence. Few in the US will remember that, but Australian politicians do. Their country has since always done as it was told to do. And that is what all the above is about.  

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