The high risks and less rewards of Australia’s nuclear submarine gamble
Australia has agreed to acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines from the United States and the United Kingdom as part of a new security partnership called AUKUS.
As part of the deal, Australian taxpayers will pour “substantial” funds into expanding American shipbuilding capacity, understood to be about $3 billion in the first four years.
The deal is aimed at enhancing Australia’s deterrence and defense capabilities in the Pacific but at the cost of protecting US interests not in real Australia.
The total cost of the nuclear-powered submarine program is forecast to be between $268 billion and $368 billion by the mid-2050s, most of it beyond the first four-year budget period.
Australia has also paid a penalty of $830 million for canceling its previous contract with France to build 12 conventional submarines, which was worth $90 billion. The total cost of the failed submarine project for Australian taxpayers is $3.4 billion.
Australia may face a 20-year capability gap regarding its ability to operate submarines, as the nuclear-powered submarines are expected to be delivered in the 2040s and the existing Collins-class submarines may not last that long.
Australia may damage its regional standing and its nuclear non-proliferation credentials, as some of its neighbors and allies are concerned about the implications of AUKUS for regional stability and the global nuclear order.
Australia may incur additional costs and risks associated with operating and maintaining nuclear-powered submarines, such as acquiring highly skilled personnel, ensuring safety and security standards, and disposing of nuclear waste.