Australia’s new defense minister is talking about the possibility of Australia acquiring US nuclear-powered submarines by the end of the decade.
Defense Secretary Richard Marles, whose party came to power in last month’s election, said his priority is to close the naval capability gap that is expected to open when Australia’s aging fleet of six Collins-class diesel-electric submarines begins to retire from 2038.
The United States and Britain agreed to provide Australia with a fleet of submarines powered by American nuclear technology. But when the agreement was announced in September, the first submarine was not expected to be delivered until 2040.
Former Defense Secretary Peter Dutton said this month that the United States could be persuaded to supply Australia with two Virginia-class submarines from the Connecticut production line by 2030.
Marlis, who is acting prime minister while Anthony Albanese is abroad, has doubted Australia will have one nuclear-powered submarine by 2030.
“I think that’s very optimistic,” Marlis told the Australian Broadcasting Corp, noting that the previous government had been anticipating a delivery date in the 1940s.
But he added: “We will look at every available option to try to advance that time.”
Dutton, now the opposition leader, said China would have the technology to detect Collins-class submarines in the South China Sea by 2035.
Unlike nuclear submarines, diesel-electric submarines have to surface and are powered by diesel propulsion while their batteries are being recharged. Dutton said China is developing technology that can detect submarines on the surface.
Albanese plans to visit French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris this week to repair bilateral ties that were strained in September when the previous Australian government tore up a $90 billion (£51 billion) contract for a French state-owned company to build a fleet. 12 diesel-electric submarines.