- A.N. Other
- History - general, Ship design and development
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
a) Make Australian defence dependent on the USA, UK or France for the design, the delivery, the fuelling and maintenance of the nuclear reactor and associated machinery;
b) Require infrastructure in Australia for nuclear submarines, which would have to be built to quality and safety standards not present in Australian naval facilities. The cost for new facilities would be several billion dollars, with the design and construction period taking several years.
c) Multiply the cost of building and commissioning a SSN attack submarine by several billion dollars to that of a modern diesel-electric boat – the decommissioning of a nuclear submarine to Western standards is estimated to be as high as the cost of building a new submarine.
d) Be ineffective to operate in shallow waters.
It is the last point which may have been on Australian defence planners’ minds above all when eliminating the nuclear option.
Contrary to common belief, the 2009 Defence White Paper did not identify China as Australia’s most likely threat in the next 30 years. Whilst the White Paper recognises that ‘China will be the strongest Asian military power by 2030 by a considerable margin’ and will exercise her influence in South-East and East Asia as well as Africa through the build-up and modernisation of her naval and air power, it also contends that militarily the USA will remain the most powerful country on earth. This will be particularly so if the NATO alliance and other bilateral defence agreements with the USA hold firm.
In other words, the 2008 White Paper confirms the direction set in the 1986 Dibb Review and the subsequent 1987 and 1994 White Papers. All recognise the need to ensure the following:
- self-reliance: recognition that combat support from allies like the US is by no means guaranteed, and that Australia should be capable of military operations separately from major power allies;
- defence in depth: placing priority on the defence of Australia and the approaches to it; practising a strategically defensive posture intended to deny potential enemies use of the sea-air gap which separates Australia from its neighbours;
- protect and support other ADF assets: Australia must maintain an undersea warfare capability that can tilt regional military balances in its favour by denying open-water access to an adversary and by protecting deployed surface forces;
- alliance: continuance of the American alliance in the area of intelligence and non-combat support.
Australia has had no clearly defined enemy since the Second World War, but defence planners must be conscious of the requirement to have strategies in place that will deter and defeat adversaries who rely on surprise, deception, and asymmetric warfare. Rather than plan for large military operations, or even small wars limited to specific nation-states, Australia, like the USA and other NATO members, continues to develop strategies to tackle unconventional threats from both state and non-state actors who might seek to attack and/or disrupt Australia’s economic life-lines.
Australia’s economy is largely dependent on the uninterrupted exports of hydrocarbon and other resources. The current Australian off-shore oil and gas fields are found in waters of less than 200m deep. Liquefied gas, iron ore and coal – the country’s major earners – are exported from designated ports and terminals on the west and east coast of Australia. To safeguard these off-shore installations and approaches to the ports requires sea, air and land defence capabilities.
Australian defence planners ask for greater range and longer patrol endurance in the future submarines because there is no guarantee that the Korean Peninsula or the Taiwan Strait will always remain politically and militarily benign; nor is it certain that a future financial depression would not lead to commercial, and ultimately military, conflict. But if engagement in these areas was required there would be allies to provide Australian submarines with forward basing and support regimes.
The South Korean government is modernising its navy with advanced AIP equipped German Class 214 submarines. Japan maintains its ongoing built program of conventional submarines. Meanwhile, China and India are developing an indigenous nuclear submarine capability in addition to modernising their diesel-electric submarine fleet. By 2018 advanced stealth designed Russian submarines are likely to be operated by a number of regional powers in Australia’s area of strategic interest. By then the Collins class will be no match for these submarines.