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Barrier Reef to Counter China: Nuclear Edition

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One of the biggest news stories of this year—both in terms of military-technological cooperation and in the geopolitical sense— seemingly appeared out of the blue last week. The U.S., Australia and the UK set up what was dubbed AUKUS, a military and political grouping, whose first publicly stated goal is to be the building of atomic submarines for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).

Throughout the last decade, Australia has been actively seeking to modernize and re-equip its Defence Force as well as strengthen its military ties with the U.S. This, however, is not common knowledge in Russia, as the Green Continent is a place remote from other regions that are typically of interest to the general public. But the importance of what happened on September, 15 can hardly be overestimated. Perhaps, it will come to be a historic milestone for the Indo-Pacific region and the new Cold War, now waged between Washington and Beijing. Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison, the leaders of the U.S., the UK and Australia, made a joint statement where they announced a new security partnership between their countries, sharing their commitment to a rules-based order as well as to closer diplomatic and defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Under AUKUS, they are planning to openly share information and technology, “bringing together sailors, scientists and industries to maintain and expand [their] edge in military capabilities and critical technologies.” This means that Australia has now gained the same level of U.S. trust as the UK, now forming part of the “inner circle” within the “Five Eyes” alliance, whose exclusiveness has made many U.S. allies jealous.

The U.S. has not shared its technologies for building nuclear submarines with any nation but the UK. A parallel can be drawn here with the US–UK Mutual Defense Agreement of 1958 and the 1962 Nassau Agreement, under which Washington was to support London in developing nuclear technology for military purposes, such as submarines, and to sell “Polaris” missiles. As in the 1960s, when the U.S. boosted its military potential and ties with its Atlantic ally to counter the Soviet Union in the Cold War, today’s America is willing to support its key ally in the Pacific as the confrontation with China grows. The UK’s part in this cooperation is definitely minor; however, it is still useful for the United States to support Global Britain’s interest in the Indo-Pacific. In return, London might receive a good piece of the pie for its national military-industrial complex and shipbuilding, which Boris Johnson pledged to support. At least, a separate statement by Mr. Johnson mentions the creation of “hundreds of highly skilled jobs.”

Australia is not afraid, Australia is focusing

Despite its geographical remoteness from the usual centers of historical events, Australia has a short but worthy military history. The Australians fought bravely alongside their mother country, Britain, in both World Wars. The participation by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in the First World War is considered a key national event, while Anzac Day is one of the most important public holidays. World War II contributed to a close rapprochement between Australia and the United States, which ousted Great Britain as its main ally. Besides, the U.S. never had the controversial status of a metropole, being seen instead as protector and savior from the Japanese invasion.

In the wake of World War II, Australia actively participated in many local wars alongside the United States—not only in the widely supported Korean War of 1950–1953 but also in Vietnam throughout 1964–1975. Interestingly enough, the Australian Army and Air Force took part in the invasions of Iraq (operation “Desert Storm” in 1991 and the war in 2003). While buffs in contemporary military history would assure you that only Great Britain deployed troops alongside the United States, Australia, although in shadow, was there as well. Of course, the Australian military has actively been involved in the war in Afghanistan and operations against ISIS [1] in Iraq and Syria.

In recent decades, Canberra has evidently put its military expenditures on the increase—apparently, owing to the growing tensions in the region and the emerging Cold War between the United States and China. A growing need for qualitative and quantitative renewal and strengthening of the Defence Forces was persistently stated in the Defence White Papers of 2009, 2016 and 2020. It seems as if Australia would rather stay out of the Sino-American conflict (China is its main trade partner) but military and political cooperation with the U.S. is almost existential to Australia. Nor can Washington grant extensive freedom of choices to its “junior partner” given the obviously great geostrategic importance of the Green Continent as a rear military base for the Navy and Air Force.

A mere list of Australia’s military purchases might be a good illustration here. In 2007, it signed a contract that provided for Spain to build two Canberra-class LHDs able to carry F-35B short take-off aircraft [2] as well as three Hobart-class destroyers [3]. Spain has long been Australia’s most important partner in upgrading the Navy: in 2016, the Spanish Cantabria was chosen as a prototype for Australia’s new replenishment oiler, with the first of the two Supply-class oilers put into service in April this year. The situation has recently changed: the British ВАE Systems received an important contract to build nine City-class frigates for the Australian Navy, taking over from the Spanish. The Australian variant, the Hunter-class frigate, has a bigger draft and greater compatibility with the weapon systems of the U.S. Navy [4] . The Australian preference for the Hunter-class was a big win for Britain’s military shipbuilding and the most impressive export contract in decades, which has probably weighed with Canada’s choice as they now intend to build 15 such ships. Moreover, it was an obvious example of how the British-Australian ties are gaining in strength.

Germany and the U.S. are Australia’s key partners for the Australian Army. In 2018, the Rheinmetall Boxer CRV multirole combat reconnaissance vehicle was chosen over the competition—this may well be the heaviest and one of the most expensive armored vehicles today. The Australian configuration is equipped with a weapons system quite worthy of a modern infantry combat vehicle as well as with an active protection system, enjoying a combat weight (38.5 tons) close to that of the main tanks. In 2022, a future infantry combat vehicle will be chosen, the main options being the Rheinmetall KF41 “Lynx” (a most “premium” IFV currently available on the market, which also stands a good chance in the States) and the South Korean AS21 “Redback”. It is planned to purchase 450 vehicles. Although it may seem somewhat of a surprise that the Korean vehicle has reached the final, they are far from underdogs: in 2020, the К9 “Thunder” won a tender to supply 30 self-propelled artillery weapons, replacing the popular German PzH 2000. The Americans retain the heaviest segment of the Australian army’s weapons systems (in fact, they surprisingly have certain difficulties with the segments mentioned earlier). In 2006, Canberra acquired 59 M1A1 “Abrams” main tanks from the U.S., while this April saw the U.S. regulatory authorities approve their replacement with the latest M1A2C vehicles with a capacity increased to 75.

Partnership with the United States in the field of aviation is somewhat traditional. In 2007, purchase contracts were signed for 24 Boeing F/A-18F “Super Hornet” multirole fighter aircraft, while the Australians—rather than re-equip half the force into EA-18G “Growler” electronic warfare and air defense suppression aircraft—decided in 2014 to purchase 12 such aircraft separately. The country is one of the biggest customers of American fifth-generation F-35A fighters, with a total of 72 up to 100 aircraft to be purchased, 41 of which are ready. The Italian-American C-27J “Spartan” tactical transport aircraft were purchased via the United States and, from the early 2000s to the first half of the 2010s, strategic Boeing C-17 “Globemaster III” transporter aircraft were purchased, bringing their number to eight. In January 2021, the latest modification of the U.S. AH-64 Apache attack helicopter was chosen to replace the unsuccessful European “Tiger” attack helicopters. Some 29 AH-64E “Apache Guardians” are set to be delivered starting from 2025.

In 2012, a contract was signed for Boeing P-8A “Poseidon” maritime patrol aircraft used for anti-submarine warfare. Initially, it was planned to purchase eight units only; however, by late last year, the total number of orders came to be increased up to 14. In 2018, acquisition of 6 MQ-4C “Triton” unmanned aerial vehicles of the RQ-4 “Global Hawk” modification was announced. These are tailored for maritime reconnaissance (in liaison with “Poseidon”). At the same time, New Zealand announced the purchase of four “Poseidons”, which are considered part of a shared naval scout-attack force with Australia. The force is rather serious: for example, the UK was only able to provide funding for nine such aircraft.

Yet, even against the background of all these contracts, the programme for renewing the submarine fleet stood out in terms of scope and importance.

Vested Interest

Australia has always paid special attention to its submarine fleet, viewing it as an effective means for projecting force at sea in terms of price-quality ratio. The current Collins submarines were gradually introduced from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. Expectations were high—already back then, France had offered a diesel-electric version of its nuclear submarine Rubis. The competition was, nonetheless, won by Sweden, who were recognized leaders in non-nuclear submarine shipbuilding.

It is difficult to pinpoint whose fault exactly it was but the six submarines handed to the Australian Navy over in 1996–2003, with significant delays (from 18 to 41 months), turned out to be ridden with issues. The bulk of the problems linked back to the submarines’ technical complexity, since they were first in their class, which meant a lot of time had to be spent on eliminating the “teething problems” that had to do with maneuvering and power systems, periscopes and increased noise. The American combat information and control system proved to be its Achilles heel, though this was not due to the submarine itself but rather because the responsibility for the contract was passed from hand to hand (from Rockwell to Boeing and from Boeing to Raytheon) given the turbulences in the American military-industrial complex during the 1990s. The issue was resolved during an overhaul by installing a new AN/BYG-1 combat information and control system similar to one used on U.S. modern multipurpose nuclear submarines. Currently, there are plans to upgrade the Collins-class submarines once again since they will have to stay in service for most of the 2030s.

In 2007, a programme for selecting a replacement, SEA 1000, was launched, with proposals from Japan, France and China presented. Plans were for a series of 12 submarines to be built, which would be twice as many as compared to the Collins-class. At the same time, the Australians had high expectations in terms of quantity and quality, striving to build the world’s largest non-nuclear submarine. The submarines had to boast low noise and higher autonomy, which, interestingly, led to an air-independent power plant (VNEU) being abandoned in favor of the classic combination of a diesel engine and electric batteries (lithium-ion and of bigger capacity, though). For a long time, a modernized Japanese Sōryū-class submarine, with its increased size, was a favorite. As a sidenote, we shall note that the final two of the 12 such submarines built for the Japanese Navy were equipped with additional batteries instead of an air-independent power, Stirling-type engine, like the new Japanese Taigei-class submarines (29SS) dubbed “Big Whale”.

However, in April 2016, Canberra reportedly opted for the French Shortfin Barracuda. For competitive procurement, France submitted a non-nuclear (diesel-electric) version of its multipurpose Suffren-class nuclear submarine (also known as Barracuda-class). These are brand-new ships built for the French Navy, which has so far received only the flagship submarine. When the French proposal was chosen, the estimated time of the first Attack-class submarine (the flagship submarine was to be called HMAS Attack) to join the fleet was beyond 2030. One can find various estimates of the project’s costs, which are mostly based on the initial calculations in the prices of the mid-2010s[5] . In 2020, the Australian Ministry of Defence estimated the price of the 12 submarines to be at AUD 89.7 bn in 2019–2020 prices, which is the equivalent of USD 65–66 bn. The lengthy timeframe for the project to be completed and high demands have resulted in the speculations that Australians would end up going for nuclear submarines. Defence officials were openly showing their interest in such a scenario, while the Americans were doing their best to promote their Virginia-class submarines. However, this turned out to be impossible from a political point of view at the time.

One cannot rule out the conspiracy theory of “patriotic sabotage” to hinder the deal, believing that “we would only have to stand for a day and hold out through the night, upon which nuclear-powered submarines will just break through[6]. ” The official contract was only signed in February 2019. A series of scandals occurred, the biggest one had to do with a leak of classified papers in the Australian press, dealing a serious blow to France’s reputation and that of the DCNS submarine producer. This probably was what made India refuse to purchase additional submarines from the same producer. The choice of the Shortfin Barracuda was severely criticized in the Australian media as well as by Australia’s prominent politicians, such as the ex-PM Abbott. Even after the contract was signed, the political squabbles around it persisted, now focusing on the low involvement of national industry. The final contract for building the first submarine should have been signed in April 2021 but the Australians lodged new complaints and suggested revising the contract to signing it this autumn. This caused suspicion in France, compelling them to repeatedly question the Australians, including at top level, whether they would want to switch to nuclear-powered submarines, a topic that was ignored. The final declaration of commitment to the contract was published on 30 August, signed by the ministers of foreign affairs and defense of both sides, two and a half weeks before the deal was cancelled. The French were only warned about this cancellation a couple of hours before it!

With this in mind, the level and the reason behind France’s anger is quite understandable. Their “close allies” were throwing dust in their eyes while arranging deals behind their backs for at least a year, so very cynically. For example, the matter was discussed during the G7 Summit this year but Macron, who was there, was not told anything. Moreover, the timing of AUKUS’s announcement was chosen in quite an insulting manner (or with a blatant disregard for Europe)— a couple of days before the European Policy in the Indo-Pacific was published. The Europeans were shown how their allies could reconsider their plans and opinion. It is interesting that the sides could find the time to warn the IAEA about the idea to sell Australia high-enriched uranium reactors, but no time for the EU was ever found. Apparently, Joe Biden was building a convenient schedule for his own as the first meeting of QUAD (the U.S., Australia, India and Japan) was scheduled for September, 24 to take place in Washington, DC. AUKUS was obviously one of the main topics.

At the time this article was penned, the French reaction was still in evolution. What is already known is that French ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia were recalled. The ambassador in London was not recalled to additionally insult Great Britain, showing that the UK is not considered as somehow independent in these matters. The meeting between the French and British ministers of defence on deepening cooperation in the missile development programme was cancelled. Australia will probably have to pay EUR 90m in compensation. In the next part of the article, we would nevertheless switch from the issues of transatlantic relations and potential scenarios for France to the military and technical prospects of the Australians buying nuclear submarines.

The Non-Peaceful Atom and other Phenomena

The new programme was announced on September, 16 in an online trilateral public address by heads of state on AUKUS. In fact, this programme was the only concise point mentioned during the rather short announcement. A trilateral working group was to be established to work out the best way to provide the Australian Navy with nuclear-powered submarines over the next 18 months, taking into account the experience of the U.S. and UK in this domain. “Compatibility, unification and mutually beneficial cooperation” were emphasized. This can be understood as follows:

  • the “Australian” variant will be based on the current or prospective American or British project;
  • common knots are likely to be used, including the reactor and sections of the vessel (this practice already exists as the promising British Dreadnought-class ballistic missile submarine will use the same missile compartment as U.S. submarines[7];
  • the final construction from ready-made blocks and equipment with ready-made systems will be carried out in Australia with the bulk of the work done in Britain and the States, which would allow to receive orders for the military-industrial complexes of all countries.

“No fewer than eight” nuclear submarines are to be built and put into operation, preferably by 2036.

Already under the requirements of the SEA 1000 programme, the submarine—alongside the conventional torpedo weaponry—was to be armed with cruise and anti-ship missiles. Since the submarine will be multipurpose with its commissioning to occur in the 2030s and a long service life expected, something coupled with unification requirements with promising U.S. submarines of the same class, it is likely that the requirements will come to include universal vertical launch systems for cruise and ballistic missiles, similar to the Payload Tubes installed on Virginia-class submarines for six to seven “Tomahawk” missiles or three IRCPS (medium-range missiles loaded with hypersonic precision glider bodies C-HGB). If necessary, such vertical launch systems can be used to transport and launch unmanned underwater vehicles since it seems that the capacity for their use could well be deemed necessary. It could also be possible to install weapons that are new for the submarine fleet; in particular, it is planned to install a powerful laser to combat UAVs and light surface targets on the American Virginia-class. Australian officials have already said that “nuclear-powered submarines have the capacity to carry more advanced, and a greater number of weapons” than the previously planned non-nuclear submarine could. The submarine will almost certainly be equipped with an American information and control system, which will be familiar to Australian sailors and works well with American weapons.

It is unlikely that a specific project for the submarine has already been chosen by decision-makers. Even so, the options are few and can be classified as follows:

  • i) Serial-produced submarines and their modifications

    (1) The British Astute-class: construction of the final two out of seven is nearing completion;

    (2) The U.S. Virginia-class: active construction is under way, with serial production planned for the coming decades.

  • ii) High-potential national submarine project and its modification/a project based on it

    (1) The UK SSN(R) programme;

    (2) The U.S. SSN(X)/”Improved Virginia”;

  • iii) A fully national project specifically designed for Australia

At first glance, it seems tempting to use the ready-made projects. Yet, this is coupled with serious difficulties as serial production of the Astute-class is already coming to a close and it is quite possible that the cooperation in production has already been disrupted. The submarines are built for British weapons systems (they can use the “Tomahawk”, though), and there are no vertical launch systems or compartments for special tasks. Virginia-class submarines would probably be an ideal solution but it is unclear whether the U.S. Navy will be able to “cede” at least eight such submarines to the Australian ally. When similar proposals were made in the early to mid-2010s, the situation in the world was more stable. The U.S. Navy currently has 50 multipurpose submarines, including 19 Virginia, 3 Seawolf and 28 Los Angeles-class submarines, with the latter requiring replacement. In the long term, the number of Virginia-class submarines would preferably be increased to 66–72[8]. Amid the current developments, two submarines a year need to be ordered (perhaps, even three later on), especially since the industry will soon have to reallocate its resources to the production of Columbia-class missile submarines.>

Designing the Australian submarine as a variant of the potential projects looks more promising. The day after AUKUS was made public, the British Navy announced three-year contracts with BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, each GBP 85m worth, for designing a prospective SSN(R). Still, several years ago, the development of the Astute-class was postponed at this stage, partly due to delays, which necessitates a change in the early 2040s. Previously, only early conceptual design was carried out under contracts of some GBP 20m. The announcement of a new contract in sync with AUKUS should be taken as an application. Speaking of the American SSN(X) submarine, their earlier planning cannot be asserted: the current programmes suggest that the order for the first (experimental) sub is planned for the 2031 fiscal year[9]. The United States seems to lack the capabilities to speed up the process since the industry and the engineering staff are actively engaged in other high-priority programmes. Besides, the role of the UK in this process is unclear. Should the Americans really attempt to build on the capabilities of the Australian nuclear fleet (whether that be Virginia or SSN(X)), “assistance” coming from the former “mistress of the seas” will only hinder their progress.

Developing an exclusive nuclear submarine for Australia from scratch—more precisely, on the basis of the unfinished drafts of other projects—seems highly unlikely since it would imply unnecessary costs and run counter to the declared goals of mutual benefit and strengthening the integration of “Anglo-Saxon maritime democracies.”

Taking the above into account, it may be assumed that it would be preferable and most logical to develop a nuclear submarine project for Australia based on the British SSN(R) with an active involvement of American specialists. Meanwhile, Australian submarines might be given priority, with British ones following suit. If the Australians provide additional financial resources and assume responsibility for the final stages of work and if they receive technical assistance and ready-to-go components from the U.S., this will enable Britain to cut development and production time. Separate opinions are already expressed that “the UK will play a leading role in developing the submarine’s reactor.” At the same time, new British jobs will be created and the Americans will simultaneously link both allied fleets with their military-industrial complex as suppliers of weapons and systems. This spans beyond just two fleets. One might recall the Canadian fleet’s need for new submarines, while they had a programme for the construction of nuclear-powered Canada-class submarines in the late 1980s, which was shut down owing to the then negative attitude of the U.S.

An interesting question is how crews will be trained. The timely leasing of one of the U.S. or British submarines looks rather tempting. For example, the Indian Navy, which gained experience with the help of Russia, did so before their own nuclear submarines were built. In the meantime, this has already been announced at a press conference by Minister for Defence Peter Dutton. If it comes to leasing, then it is almost certain that an American submarine will be chosen. This could either be a more or less modern and suitable sub of the Los Angeles-class or one of the first Virginia-class submarines. Previous-generation British submarines are already “jankies”, as one would say of a car, whereas no Astute-class subs are currently available for leasing.

Nuclear-powered submarines are expected to boost the Australian Navy’s capabilities to the long-awaited whole new level. The principal factor, alongside obtaining much more powerful combat units, is the time of their deployment in remote regions. According to the estimates provided by the CSBA analytical center [10], a large non-nuclear submarine, upon leaving its home base, will be able to be on duty in the Strait of Malacca for 14 days, while a nuclear-powered one, owing to its higher speed and autonomy, could spend 78 days there. As for the Spratly Islands, the figures respectively stand at 11 and 77 days. Furthermore, the authors argue that a non-nuclear submarine will be unable to be on standby in the East China Sea, whereas a nuclear-powered one can be deployed for 73 days. Perhaps, these calculations are a bit too over the top, ignoring the fact that the Australians, in fact, wanted a non-nuclear submarine, unique in its autonomy; however, the general efficiency ratio is probably correct. What this means is that eight nuclear-powered submarines may turn out to be much more than 12 non-nuclear ones in terms of deployment at the focal points in the Indo-Pacific.

Construction of nuclear-powered submarines with Anglo-American assistance by a non-nuclear party to the NPT and member of the IAEA raises serious questions as regards non-proliferation. On the one hand, the submarine reactor is certainly not a weapon in itself but this definitely implies a transfer of nuclear technology and supplies of nuclear fuel for military purposes. Moreover, in the case of the Anglo-American technologies, we are talking about highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium (HEU)[11], the supply of which, according to the IAEA policy, is only permitted for scientific purposes and under strict control. When it comes to submarine reactors, though, only the initial delivery can be monitored. The proponents of the deal mention such advantages of HEU as no need to recharge/refuel the submarine throughout its life cycle. The AUKUS nations speak of Australia’s strict adherence to its non-proliferation commitments and its readiness to cooperate with the IAEA, while China will apparently make the most out of the issue, claiming that the countries have breached their obligations. The IAE still seems to be in two minds over how to react to all this.

As for any non-proliferation commitments, one might recall how Australia announced plans to simultaneously acquire “Tomahawk” cruise missiles to arm their Hobart-class destroyers in the near future, without waiting for the new submarines. The United States thereby continues to ignore the Missile Technology Control Regime. Plans to procure the AGM-158B JASSM-ER aircraft cruise missiles and their anti-ship modification, the AGM-158С LRASM, have been confirmed. In February 2020, the U.S. approved the delivery of 200 LRASM to Australia, which is indicative of the scale. It was also announced that the joint development of hypersonic missiles [12] with the United States would remain as it is, with a purchase of Precision Strike Missiles (PrSM), whose range is about 700-800 km, staying on the agenda as well. Besides, the two countries announced their willingness to deepen cooperation and integration of their armed forces, which entails more frequent joint exercises, improved infrastructure for more frequent calls by the U.S. Navy warships at Australian ports and a regular basing of “all types” aircraft on a rotational basis. The latter is the most important. As European experience demonstrates, one can expect in Australia an almost permanent stationing of the ever incoming and outcoming U.S. strategic bombers and maritime patrol aircraft of different squadrons. Moreover, when asked about any future deployment of U.S. medium-range missiles at a press conference, the Australian Minister of Defence replied, “I do have an aspiration.”

***

Unless the partnership falls apart for some reason in years to come, AUKUS may well mark a watershed for a number of reasons. For one, it may be remembered as one of the key steps in the establishment of an anti-Chinese alliance or as a demonstration of the new “pro-allied” Biden Administration’s stance towards Europe, with Donald Trump’s policy being no exception but rather an inception of a new long-term policy, or as a trigger to proliferation of the nuclear submarine fleet (with South Korea standing next in line).

From Russia’s perspective, this news stands out in the sense that the notorious Anglo-Saxons are fencing off and arming themselves with China rather than Russia in mind. What this means is that traditional rebukes and indignation seem to be totally out of place. Russia tends to declare its interests in the region in such a weak and indistinct fashion (they are limited to the country’s immediate neighborhood) that it makes it hard to somehow infringe on them. Moreover, the emerging situation may be used as a precedent and a new experience of being on the periphery and not on the frontline of an emerging Cold War. It would be ideal for Russia to try and replace the Australian supplies of mineral resources to China (which, given Beijing’s discontent, are unlikely to grow in the years to come but will probably fall) and take advantage of the EU’s hard feelings towards its overseas partner.

  1. The Islamic State is a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation.
  2. These have not been yet contracted by Australia. Strategic documents suggest that the LHDs can be used to host allied aircraft, though. Australia seems likely to acquire the F-35B in the future, thus following the path of South Korea and Japan, which originally bought land-based F-35A only.
  3. A larger version of the Spanish Álvaro de Bazán-class frigates. For a destroyer, they are rather weakly armed, with only 48 main universal vertical launch systems.
  4. In particular, Australian warships will have the Aegis combat information and control system and Mk 41 standard vertical launch systems, while British frigates have them in combination with the Sea Ceptor all-weather, air defense weapon system developed in the UK.
  5. 2020 FORCE STRUCTURE PLAN, page 22.
  6. In particular, CAST, the leading think tank on military-technical cooperation, expressed the following opinion, “It is obvious that the leadership of the Australian fleet (possibly with the support of American colleagues) sabotaged the choice of a non-nuclear submarine from the very beginning and carried out systematic work to promote building nuclear submarines, crowned with success. In particular, according to Australian media reports, retired US Vice Admiral William Hilarides, who heads the Morrison government’s Naval Shipbuilding Advisory Panel, played a significant role in this and will now reportedly be “a key figure in the transition process” in the acquisition of the nuclear submarine.”
  7. Common Missile Compartment (CMC). More precisely, the American Columbia-class submarine will have four blocks of the same type, each with four missile launching tubes, while the British one would have three.
  8. Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, RL32418, 14 September 2021, page 3
  9. Navy Next-Generation Attack Submarine (SSN[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, IF11826, September 15, 2021
  10. “Gateway to the Indo-Pacific: Australian Defense Strategy and the Future of the Australia-U.S. Alliance”, 9 November 2013 Jim Thomas, Zack Cooper, Iskander Rehman, page 33
  11. Historically, France has used reduced-enrichment fuel in its submarines, which provides legal grounds for exporting them. The Brazilian nuclear submarine programme, which is being implemented with French assistance, does not cause serious controversy…perhaps, of course, because no one believes in its long-term success and construction in the foreseeable future.
  12. The US has been actively cooperating with Australia on a number of hypersonic programmes, such as the recently signed contracts for developing and testing hypersonic cruise missile prototypes under the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE). The Australian side’s contribution to the “joint” experiment includes providing the necessary infrastructure for testing (it is difficult to find test sites large enough in the US) and, of course, assisting with funding.

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Defense

US military presence in the Middle East: The less the better

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It may not have been planned or coordinated but efforts by Middle Eastern states to dial down tensions serve as an example of what happens when big power interests coincide.

It also provides evidence of the potentially positive fallout of a lower US profile in the region.

Afghanistan, the United States’ chaotic withdrawal notwithstanding, could emerge as another example of the positive impact when global interests coincide. That is if the Taliban prove willing and capable of policing militant groups to ensure that they don’t strike beyond the Central Asian nation’s borders or at embassies and other foreign targets in the country.

Analysts credit the coming to office of US President Joe Biden with a focus on Asia rather than the Middle East and growing uncertainty about his commitment to the security of the Gulf for efforts to reduce tensions by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirate and Egypt on the one hand and on the other, Turkey, Iran, and Qatar. Those efforts resulted in the lifting, early this year, of the Saudi-UAE-Egyptian-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar.

Doubts about the United States’ commitment also played an important role in efforts to shore up or formalise alliances like the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel by the UAE and Bahrain.

For its part, Saudi Arabia has de facto acknowledged its ties with the Jewish state even if Riyadh is not about to formally establish relations. In a sign of the times, that did not stop then Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu from last year visiting the kingdom.

To be sure, changes in Washington’s priorities impact regional defence strategies and postures given that the United States has a significant military presence in the Middle East and serves as its sole security guarantor.

Yet, what rings alarm bells in Gulf capitals also sparks concerns in Beijing, which depends to a significant degree on the flow of its trade and energy from and through Middle Eastern waters, and Moscow with its own security concerns and geopolitical aspirations.

Little surprise that Russia and China, each in their own way and independent of the United States, over the last year echoed the United States’ message that the Middle East needs to get its act together.

Eager to change rather than reform the world order, Russia proposed an all-new regional security architecture modelled on the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) adding not only Russia but also China, India, and Europe to the mix.

China, determined to secure its proper place in the new world order rather than fundamentally altering it, sent smoke signals through its academics and analysts that conveyed a double-barrelled message. On the one hand, China suggested that the Middle East did not rank high on its agenda. In other words, the Middle East would have to act to climb Beijing’s totem pole.

For China, the Middle East is always on the very distant back burner of China’s strategic global strategies,” Niu Xinchun, director of Middle East Studies at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), China’s most prestigious think tank, told a webinar last year.

Prominent Chinese scholars Sun Degang and Wu Sike provided months later a carrot to accompany Mr. Niu’s stick. Taking the opposite tack, they argued that the Middle East was a “key region in big power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in a new era.”

Chinese characteristics, they said, would involve “seeking common ground while reserving differences,” a formula that implies conflict management rather than conflict resolution.

On that basis, the two scholars suggest, Chinese engagement in Middle Eastern security would seek to build an inclusive and shared regional collective security mechanism based on fairness, justice, multilateralism, comprehensive governance, and the containment of differences.

In the final analysis, Chinese and Russian signalling that there was an unspoken big power consensus likely reinforced American messaging and gave Middle Eastern states a further nudge to change course and demonstrate a willingness to control tensions and differences.

Implicit in the unspoken big power consensus was not only the need to dial down tensions but also the projection of a reduced, not an eliminated, US presence in the Middle East.

While there has been little real on-the-ground reduction of US forces, just talking about it seemingly opened pathways. It altered the US’ weighting in the equation.

“The U.S. has a habit of seeing itself as indispensable to regional stability around the world, when in fact its intervention can be very destabilizing because it becomes part of the local equation rather than sitting above it,” noted Raad Alkadiri, an international risk consultant.

While important, the United States’ willingness to get out of the way is no guarantee that talks will do anything more than at best avert conflicts spinning out of control.

Saudi and Iranian leaders and officials have sought to put a positive spin on several rounds of direct and indirect talks between the two rivals.

Yet, more important than the talk of progress, expressions of willingness to bury hatchets, and toning down of rhetoric is Saudi King Salman’s insistence in remarks last month to the United Nations General Assembly on the need to build trust.

The monarch suggested that could be achieved by Iran ceasing “all types of support” for armed groups in the region, including the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.

The potential monkey wrench is not just the improbability of Iran making meaningful concessions to improve relations but also the fact that the chances are fading for a revival of the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

“We have to prepare for a world where Iran doesn’t have constraints on its nuclear program and we have to consider options for dealing with that. This is what we are doing while we hope they do go back to the deal,” said US negotiator Rob Malley.

Already, Israeli politicians, unhappy with the original nuclear deal and the Biden administration’s effort to revive it, are taking a more alarmist view than may be prevalent in their intelligence services.

In Washington this week, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that Iran was “becoming a nuclear threshold state.” Back home Yossi Cohen, a close confidante of Mr. Netanyahu, who stepped down in June as head of the Mossad, asserted at the same time that Iran was “no closer than before” to obtaining a nuclear weapon.

There is no doubt, however that both men agree that Israel retains the option of a military strike against Iran. “Israel reserves the right to act at any moment in any way,” Mr. Lapid told his American interlocutors as they sought to resolve differences of how to deal with Iran if a revival of the agreement proves elusive.

Meanwhile, a foreplay of the fallout of a potential failure to put a nuclear deal in place is playing out on multiple fronts. Tension have been rising along the border between Iran and Azerbaijan.

Iran sees closer Azerbaijani-Israeli relations as part of an effort to encircle it and fears that the Caucasian state would be a staging ground for Israeli operations against the Islamic republic. Iran and Azerbaijan agreed this week to hold talks to reduce the friction.

At the same time, Iran, Turkey and Israel have been engaged in a shadow boxing match in predominantly Kurdish northern Iraq while a poll showed half of Israeli Jews believe that attacking Iran early on rather than negotiating a deal would have been a better approach.

Taken together, these factors cast a shadow over optimism that the Middle East is pulling back from the brink. They suggest that coordinated big power leadership is what could make the difference as the Middle East balances between forging a path towards stability and waging a continuous covert war and potentially an overt one.

A Johns Hopkins University Iran research program suggested that a US return to the nuclear deal may be the catalyst for cooperation with Europe, China, and Russia.

“Should the United States refuse to re-join the agreement following sufficient attempts by Iran to demonstrate flexibility in their negotiating posture, Russia and China will ramp up their economic and security cooperation with Iran in a manner fundamentally opposed to US interests,” the program warned.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh announced this week that Russia and Iran were finalizing a ‘Global Agreement for Cooperation between Iran and Russia’ along the lines of a  similar 25-year agreement between China and the Islamic republic last year that has yet to get legs.

Even so, Iran scored an important victory when the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in which China and Russia loom large last month agreed to process Iran’s application for membership.

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Defense

The U.S. may not involve military confrontation in the South China Sea

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The guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville during a replenishment-at-sea with the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Harris/U.S. Navy/Flickr

Although the US with its highest military budget, and maintaining the largest number of military bases around the globe, and the largest number of troops in foreign countries, and keeping the largest number of alliances, yet may avoid a direct military confrontation in the South China Sea. It does not mean that the US will give up, but, may exert political and diplomatic pressure, or opt for cold war strategies. The US is very well aware of the consequences and scared of spreading the conflict into other parts of the world, initiating the third world war (WWIII). It might be a nuclear war and disaster for the whole world.

Today, the piles of lethal weapons, especially nuclear weapons, are enough to destroy the whole world. If the escalation starts, it might not be limited to a small region, or continent, it might get out of control and spread to other parts of the world, and engulf the whole world. The highly hostile geopolitics are heading toward more volatility and entering dangerous limits.

As a part of the US cold war strategy, they are pushing the region toward war. On one hand creation of AUKUS, instigating Taiwan, and supporting India, pressurizing China, leaving no option except war, is extremely dangerous. The US may be once again miscalculating that, push the regional countries into war, while keeping the US away from the war zone will benefit Americans. In the recent past, all US dreams turn against their expectations, and such a dream to push China into war and enjoy the destruction of the region, keeping itself away, may not realize.

As a result of undue support to Taiwan, may instigate Taiwan for war. Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, delivered an important speech at a commemorative meeting marking the 110th anniversary of the Revolution of 1911 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 9, 2021. He said that the Taiwan question arose out of the weakness and chaos of the Chinese nation, and it will be resolved as national rejuvenation becomes a reality. “This is determined by the general trend of Chinese history, but more importantly, it is the common will of all Chinese people,” he noted.

National reunification by peaceful means best serves the interests of the Chinese nation as a whole, including compatriots in Taiwan, said Xi, while calling on compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to stand on the right side of history. Xi described secession aimed at “Taiwan independence” as the greatest obstacle to national reunification and a grave danger to national rejuvenation. “Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland, and seek to split the country will come to no good end,” he said, adding that they will be disdained by the people and condemned by history. The Taiwan question is purely an internal matter for China, one which brooks no external interference, Xi noted. “The complete reunification of our country will be and can be realized,” he stressed.

By nature, the Chinese are peace-loving and never like aggression or wars. China has been observing patience for a long, and expects, that the people of Taiwan may opt for peaceful reunification. Although China has the capacity to take over Taiwan by force, yet, China preferred reunification through dialogue and negotiation peacefully. China understands the consequences too and will observe patience to the last moment. If the people of Taiwan are smart and wise they must take the right decision, and a timely decision will be in their interest. A unified China will make them proud too. They may also be beneficiaries of Chinese economic developments. Reunification, will definitely, raise the economy of Taiwanese and improve individuals’ standard of life. There are many incentives for Taiwan and unlimited opportunities.

However, in case of war, no foreign country will come to help Taiwan, especially the US will not rescue them. In fact, the role of the US is to instigate others and push them into war and keep themselves aside, watching only, they may join the winner side later on. The US is not sincere with Taiwan, but playing dirty politics only and selling expensive weapons to gain economic benefits to save its ailing economy. The US will not proactively involve in any war in the South China sea.

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Defense

China Says U.S.-China War Is Imminent

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China has now publicly announced that, unless the United States Government will promptly remove from China’s Taiwan province the military forces that it recently sent there, China will soon send military forces into that province, because, not only did the U.S. secretly send “special operations forces” onto that island, but because, “since the US has exposed the news through anonymous officials, it has taken a step forward to undermine, from covertly to semi-overtly, the key conditions for the establishment of diplomatic relations between Chinese mainland and the US.” That statement — threatening to cut off diplomatic relations with the U.S. — comes from the Chinese Communist Party’s newspaper, Global Times’s editorial, on October 8th. Its editorials speak for the Chinese Government, at least as much as statements from the U.S. White House speak for the U.S. Government.

The Chinese editorial went on to explain that: 

The mainland must respond to the US’ new provocations to make both Washington and the island of Taiwan fully realize the severity of their collusion. Otherwise, in the next step, US military staff may show up in Taiwan island, publicly wearing uniforms and their number may increase from dozens to hundreds or even more to form a de facto US garrison in the island

In other words: America’s “special operations forces” might be killed when China sends its military forces into Taiwan so as to deal with the insurrection that’s now occurring in this province. China is saying that it will be sending those troops and planes onto the island before America publicly invades the island, in order to be in a better position to deal with the U.S. invasion if and when it occurs. China is clearly aiming here to avoid there being “a de facto US garrison on the island.” China — if it is going to kill U.S. troops on that island — wants to be killing only those few “special operations forces” personnel, and NOT any “garrison.” It wants to minimize the damage.

The U.S. Government has officially recognized that Taiwan is — as the Chinese Government itself says — a province of China, not a separate nation. Therefore, what the U.S. Biden Administration is now doing is actually in violation of official (and actually longstanding) U.S. Government policy on the matter.

As I had reported on September 14th, under the headline that “China and U.S. are on the brink of war”:  

Right now, the neocons that Biden has surrounded himself with are threatening to accuse him of having ‘lost Taiwan’ if Biden backs down from his many threats to China, threats that the U.S. Government will reverse America’s “One China” policy, which has been in place ever since the 28 February 1972 “Shanghai Communique”, when the U.S. Government signed with China to the promise and commitment that “The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.”

Quietly, but gradually, the U.S. Government, in recent years, has been giving increasing signs that it will abrogate this policy and grant to Taiwan official recognition and an embassy in Washington. For it to do that would contrast blatantly, not only against the 28 February 1972 “Shanghai Communique”, but against other official U.S. policies.

For example, consider Crimea, which the U.S. Government demands to be a part of Ukraine and not a part of Russia. Regarding the relationship between Crimea — which was a province of Russia between 1783 and 1954 but was then suddenly and arbitrarily transferred to Ukraine by the Soviet dictator Khruschev in 1954 — and Ukraine, the U.S. Government is demanding that Crimea must be as Khruschev arbitrarily ruled it to become in 1954: a part of Ukraine. The U.S. has this policy though public opinion polls that the U.S. Government itself commissioned to be performed of Crimeans both back in 2013 before the February 2014 U.S. coup in Ukraine and after that coup, showed overwhelming public support by Crimeans for Crimea’s being restored to Russia, no longer a part of Ukraine (as had been the case since 1954). The U.S. Government demands that Crimeans — who by more than 90% prefer to be part of Russia instead of part of Ukraine — have no right to determine what their nationality will be, but that Taiwaners (who might predominantly want to not be a part of China) have a right to determine what their nationality will be). The U.S. Government demands that Crimea be restored to Ukraine, which the residents of Crimea had always opposed (and still do), but now also demands that Taiwan NOT be restored to China (which was part of China since 1683 and until Japan conquered Taiwan in 1895 and held it until Taiwan became restored to China in 1945. 

America’s pretenses to supporting democracy in international affairs are blatantly a fraud in order to continue the U.S. empire that has become established after World War II by means of numerous sanctions, coups, and invasions.

Andrew Bacevich, the President of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, headlined on September 30th, “‘A Horrible Mistake’: Recovering From America’s Imperial Delusions”, and he wrote:

Rather than picking sides in regional disputes — Saudi Arabia vs. Iran, Israel vs. Hamas and Hezbollah — the United States should reposition itself as a genuinely honest broker. Rather than chiding some nations for violating human rights and giving others a pass, it should hold all of them (and itself) to a common standard. Rather than flooding the region with advanced weaponry, it should use its influence to reduce arms transfers. Rather than selectively opposing nuclear proliferation, it should do so consistently across the board. Rather than scattering U.S. forces across the region, it should drastically reduce the number of bases it maintains there. At most, two should suffice: an air base in Qatar and a naval facility in Bahrain.

The same applies regarding such matters as Taiwan and Crimea. Bacevich concluded (referring to the example of Afghanistan) that,

The ultimate “horrible mistake,” to repurpose Secretary of Defense Austin’s phrase, dates from the immediate aftermath of the Cold War when the United States succumbed to a form of auto-intoxication: imperial delusions fueled by an infatuation with military power.

America’s sanctions, coups and military invasions, must end. As the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft might say (if they were more blunt): what the U.S. Government has been doing since 1945 is not “Responsible Statecraft.” These sanctions, coups and military invasions, are, instead, “Imperial Delusions,” just as Bacevich says they are.

However, America’s billionaires, whose donations determine which candidates will be politically competitive to stand even a chance of becoming nominated so as to stand a chance of then becoming elected into public offices in the U.S. federal Government, are essentially unanimous in favor of their military-industrial complex, which is the most profitable field for them to invest in. Consequently, neoconservatism — which is U.S. imperialism — is bipartisanly dominant in both of America’s political Parties, each Party being financed by a different group of billionaires. They are virtually unanimous for imperialism, both Parties voting in Congress overwhelmingly for U.S. imperialism — just about the only thing that they bipartisanly support — because it’s profitable for the billionaires that fund each of the two congressional Parties (or teams) . This is why Joe Biden continues, and generally intensifies, Donald Trump’s foreign policies, and why Donald trump had continued, and generally intensified, Barack Obama’s foreign policies — all recent U.S. Presidents have been (and the present one is) neoconservative (or imperialist), whatever else they might be. For an example of this: on 10 January 2021, just before the end of the Trump Presidency, Zero Hedge headlined “Washington ‘One-China’ Policy Dead As Pompeo Lifts Restrictions On US-Taiwan Relations”. Biden is simply intensifying Trump’s policy on China.

In fact: all of this U.S. imperialism has been enormously profitable for America’s billionaires, and especially for the ones who have been investing the most heavily in ‘defense’ industries. This has been most clearly and most blatantly so after the ‘ideological’ ‘justification’ (anti-communism) for the Truman-and-Eisenhower start, in 1945, of the Cold War, finally ended in 1991. Beginning at around 1990 — the very same period when G.H.W. Bush started secretly instructing America’s ‘allies’ that the Cold War would continue on the U.S. side even after the Soviet Union would break up and end its communism, and end its side of the Cold War — the “Cumulative Returns, Indexed to 1951,” for the total stock “Market” vs. for “Industrials” vs. for “Defense,” which three segments had previously moved in tandem with each other, sharply diverged after 1990, so that “Defense” has since been soaring, it’s rising much faster than the other two sectors, both of which other two sectors (“Market and “Industrials”) continued after 1990 rising in tandem with each other. That — 1990 — was the time when market valuations on America’s armaments producers suddenly took off and left the rest of the economy ever-increasingly behind. It’s all shown right there in that chart. This means that the decision by George Herbert Walker Bush to go for blood, instead of to serve the needs of the American people, has been vastly profitable for America’s aristocracy. Interesting, too, is that the period after 1990 has been when the U.S. Government became increasingly involved in invading the Middle East. The arms-markets there were growing by leaps and bounds. However, after 2020, the U.S.-and-allied regimes seem to be refocusing again on “great power competition” (including sanctions and other operations to promote “regime change” against any governments that don’t cooperate with the U.S. regime’s efforts against what it declares to be ‘America’s enemies’). They now openly equate economic “competition” against such targets, as being something that is legitimate to be dealt with by even military means. They openly presume that the military ought to serve their billionaires and no longer “national” (meaning public) defense. They openly presume that imperialism is right, and that it’s okay for nations to fight each other in order to further enrich their respective aristocracies.

This is what the U.S. regime’s support for Taiwan to become an independent country is actually all about: making America’s billionaires even richer.

Gideon Rachman’s Financial Times article, on 12 October 2021, “The moment of truth over Taiwan is getting closer”, provides excellent documentation that the U.S. regime (including its news-media) has been extremely successful in recent years at increasing the negativity of U.S. public opinion towards China’s Government, and that this success has increased the pressure on U.S. President Biden to go to war against China. However, Rachman there failed to note that on 26 July 2021, the U.S. military news site DefenseOne had bannered, concerning U.S. war-games which had just concluded against China, “‘It Failed Miserably’: After Wargaming Loss, Joint Chiefs Are Overhauling How the US Military Will Fight”, and they reported that if the Joint Chiefs’ “overhaul” becomes successful, it won’t be until 2030, at the earliest. So: if there will be a U.S. invasion soon against China, then America’s armed forces will likely lose that war, and the pressure upon Biden to go nuclear against China will then become enormous — so as to turn that defeat into ‘victory’. Perhaps America’s anti-China propaganda has been too successful, and will bring nuclear annihilation. Maybe the owners of firms such as Lockheed Martin, and of such firms as CNN — the people who have, effectively, placed America’s ‘elected’ leaders into power — will turn out to have been too effective at what they do. Right now, this situation is looking like a runaway train that’s heading for a catastrophic crash.

Perhaps the question right now is: How insistent are America’s billionaires, really, that the U.S. Government will become the world’s first-ever 100% encompassing empire, dictating to each and every other nation? Are they willing to risk nuclear annihilation for that supreme supremacist goal? After America’s successful coup against Ukraine in 2014, they’ve been buying luxurious deep-underground bunkers in preparation for this (WW III). But is that really the type of world that they want to live — and die — in? That’s the question.

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