Australian personnel will be able to access training and information about U.S. and U.K. nuclear naval propulsion as part of the latest progress in the three-way AUKUS agreement to transfer nuclear submarine technology to Canberra, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday.
The agreement “will enable Australian civilian and military personnel to receive access to critical training and education from the United States and United Kingdom counterparts, necessary to learn how to safely and effectively operate a capability for Australia,” Morrison said. “The Agreement will also enable Australia to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to create a world’s best practice regulatory and safety regime to guarantee the safe operation of nuclear, naval nuclear propulsion, and ensure compliance with Australia’s international obligations, including under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.”
In September, Australia announced that it would cancel a $90 billion plan to replace its six Collins-class diesel-electric submarines with conventionally powered subs made by France and instead pursue a nuclear-powered submarine fleet with help from the U.S. and the U.K.
The parties gave themselves 18 months from September to iron out the details.
Last week, Adm. James Caldwell, director of U.S. Naval Reactors, told an industry group that Washington had not yet decided to call the private sector to the table and that AUKUS work remains mostly a government-to-government affair, for now. Caldwell also repeated to industry that the U.S.’ own Columbia-class program, which has only about two months of margin left in its schedule, will take precedence over every acquisition program in the Navy portfolio.
Meanwhile, Canberra’s ambassador to Washington last week said that Australia does not want to establish a domestic nuclear industry to deal with issues such as refining highly enriched uranium to fuel its future submarine fleet, or processing such material into metal-clad reactor fuel — in the U.S., naval nuclear fuel manufacturing is the sole province of BWX Technologies [BWXT] of Lynchburg, Va. Australia will notionally build its nuclear-powered boats in the state of South Australia.
The AUKUS agreement, which is not a formal alliance, will eventually require presidential approval of an interagency agreement to be hashed out by the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, potentially with input from Congress.
The U.K.’s top uniformed officer has said AUKUS is a sort of meeting of the minds between like-minded nations and that the arrangement could be replicated elsewhere.
The AUKUS deal is widely regarded as a means checking Chinese military ambitions in the South China Sea and the Pacific, broadly.