Beyond the diplomatic crisis generated with France following the cancellation of the Attack-class submarine program, the program aimed at equipping the Royal Australian Navy with nuclear-powered submarines of American-British construction, in the framework of the AUKUS alliance, could well turn out to be a zero-sum game. It is in any case the warning given by two American senators, Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed and Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe in a Dec. 21 letter to the White House. " We believe that current conditions require a sober assessment of the facts to avoid stressing the U.S. submarine industrial base to breaking point." page (in French).
In their letter, the two American senators specify that the average production of nuclear-powered attack submarines of the Virginia class during the last 5 years will have been only 1,2 ships per year, and warn the executive against any ambition to deflect submarines destined for the US Navy to its ally before the specific needs of the US Navy have been met, which would not provide any operational advantage to US forces or even allies, especially in the Pacific against China. While James Inhofe, a member of the highly influential Senate Armed Services Committee at the time this letter was written, retired on the occasion of the renewal of part of the Senate, Senator Jack Reed remained Chairman of this Committee in the new legislature. The concern expressed by the two Senators comes as the 18-month study period announced during the creation of the Aukus alliance, precisely to study the solutions allowing the RAN to acquire submarines nuclear-powered attack aircraft, will end in March.
The US submarine fleet today consists of 14 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and 4 Ohio-class nuclear-powered cruise missile submarines, 3 nuclear-powered attack submarines (SNA) Seawolf-class, 26 Los Angeles-class SNAs and 21 Virginia-class SNAs. Among these ships, the Ohio-class submarines, the oldest of which reach the operational age of 38 years, such as the Los Angeles, the oldest of which has been in service for 37 years, are soon to be withdrawn from service, to be respectively replaced by the new Columbia-class SSBNs which are due to enter service from 2027, and by the Virginia-class SNAs already in service. In addition, the US Navy has embarked on a plan to grow its SNA fleet to 70 units by 2040. This therefore involves the manufacture and addition to service of 12 Columbia-class SSBNs and 46 SNAs. over a period of 17 years, i.e. 1 SSBN every 2 years and 2,7 SNA per year, a rate that American shipyards will struggle to keep up, even despite the significant efforts undertaken in this area by manufacturers and the 'U.S. Navy.
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