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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

'Optimistic in the Extreme': Australia's Nuclear Submarines Under AUKUS Unlikely to Be Ready by 2030

Sputnik News

Dhairya Maheshwari

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) is reportedly set to start retiring its current fleet of Collins-class diesel-electric attack submarines before the end of this decade. Meanwhile, the first nuclear-powered submarines to be developed under the AUKUS arrangement aren't expected before 2040, stoking concerns of a "capability gap".

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles has said that it is unlikely that Canberra would get its first nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) under the trilateral AUKUS pact by 2030.

"I think that is optimistic in the extreme. I think the truth of where the government left us at the time - the former government, I should say - left us at the time of the election is that, really, they were looking at a new nuclear submarine in the 2040s," Marles said during an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Wednesday.

"Now, we will be looking at every option available to try and bring that time forward. I think bringing it forward to eight years from now would be extremely optimistic," stated Marles.

He underlined that the Defense Department would present its findings on the path that Australia would take in its quest to develop nuclear submarines in March next year.

Canberra is currently in the process of deciding whether it wants to develop its nuclear submarine fleet using British or American technology.

"We do need to firstly understand what capability we will be pursuing, what exactly will be the next nuclear-powered - or the next submarine we will have, the nuclear-powered submarine, when we can get it and what capability arises from that and, therefore, what is the solution to that capability gap," he said.

The minister blamed the previous Liberal government headed by Scott Morrison for the "inaction" in being able to procure the successor to the Royal Australian Navy's (RAN) current fleet of diesel-electric Collins-class submarines.

"People need to understand that when the former government came to power in 2013 it was expected that we would have a successor submarine to Collins in the mid-20s, in the next couple of years. Their inaction, their failures, their bungles, effectively opened up a 20-year capability gap," the Defense Minister said.

The previous Australian government, which lost the federal election in May, scrapped a contract with France's Naval Group last September, which would have given Canberra advanced diesel-electric submarines by 2030.

Instead, it opted for nuclear subs developed by Australia, the US and the UK under the AUKUS security arrangement which was unveiled last September. As part of AUKUS, the US and the UK are due to supply Australia with advanced technology to domestically develop SSNs.

In the lead-up to the election last month, former Defense Minister Peter Dutton rejected the idea of an interim submarine, arguing it wasn't "in our national interest to pretend we can have a third class of submarine."

At the time, he expressed confidence that the current Collins-class fleet would last until 2040.

However, the current Australian government has said that it is "open-minded" as far as closing the "capability gap" in Australia's frontline submarine fleet is concerned.

China, the perceived target of the AUKUS pact, has accused the US of stoking an "arms race" in the Asia-Pacific through the trilateral arrangement.

Several Southeast Asian nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia have expressed concerns over the AUKUS pact. After a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Malaysia in Jakarta last October, the two governments warned against an "arms race" in the region.

Kuala Lumpur reiterated its concerns on AUKUS during Foreign Minister Penny Wong's ongoing visit to the nation.

Marles said that it was "important" that Canberra remained "transparent" in its ongoing military modernization in order to allay concerns around AUKUS.

© Sputnik

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