Will Australia's nuclear submarine program collapse?

No one has forgotten the shattering announcement made by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, along with his British counterpart Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden in September 2021, which ended the French-Australian Shortfin submarine program Barracuda for the benefit of a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines carried out within the framework of a new alliance bringing together the 3 countries, and designated by the acronym AUKUS. It is true that the Australian Shortfin Barracuda conventionally propelled ocean submarine program had been under fire for several years, in particular because of an overall budget of Australian $ 90 billion presented as gargantuan in the eyes of the public. public, the country's authorities having simply failed to specify that the initial budget of $ 50 billion presented publicly at the start of the program only applied to 8 submarines, against 12 actually ordered, and did not take into account the inflation over a program of almost 20 years.

It now seems that the same mistakes are at work concerning the new program intended to replace the French submarines by 8 nuclear-powered submarines of American or British design. In fact, as time passes and independent studies dawn, it appears that this path chosen by Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison harbors many pitfalls, sometimes even identical to those which sounded the death knell for the Franco-Australian program. And as questions and concerns mount, the first beginnings of answers appear to paint a worrying picture for Australia, its economy and its fleet.

the consequences of canceling the Shortfin Barracuda program for Australia could well be far more damaging to the country's security and public finances than expected.

The first of the pitfalls on which Australian ambition could be shattered is none other than the exorbitant price of the program itself. According to the Australian Strategic Coverage Institute, the overall cost of the program for 8 submarines would, in fact, in the best case, be $ 70 billion. But this total does not take inflation into account, and is even considered very improbable by the authors of the report themselves, who estimate that it could, in the end, wait for $ 171 billion, inflation included, i.e. double the amount. Franco-Australian program so much decried on the Australian public scene. This investment would then represent the equivalent of 8,5% of the country's GDP, as well as 4 full years of the Australian Defense budget. Compared to the population, this represents an effort of almost A $ 7000 per capita over the duration of the program.

In addition, the industrial compensations applied to this program appear more and more hypothetical, while the difficulties relating to the establishment of an industry capable of assembling such submarines are emerging in a country which does not have 'no experience in this area, as well as no civilian nuclear industry. Because beyond the costs and difficulties in establishing such an industry, there is also the problem of the time required to achieve it, knowing that such an ambition would require profound changes in terms of vocational training, and even academic training. For Melbourne, it would be a question of deploying the equivalent of a civilian nuclear program, which is more capable of work with enriched military grade fuel, even though the country is ruling out equipping itself with a civilian nuclear power plant, creating an economic as well as a societal paradox on this subject.

In all likelihood, the Australian ANS will have to be produced by US Industry, the only solution to try to reduce the already very long delays of this program.

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