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AUKUS, Congress and Cold Feet

The undertakings made by Australia regarding the AUKUS security pact promise to be monumental. Much of this is negative: increased militarisation on the home front; the co-opting of the university sector for war making industries and defence contractors; and the capitulation and total subordination of the Australian Defence Force to the Pentagon.

There are also other, neglected dimensions at work here: the failure, as yet, for the Commonwealth to establish a viable, acceptable site for the long term storage of high-grade nuclear waste; the uncertainty about where the submarines will be located; the absence of skills in the construction and operational level in Australia regarding nuclear-powered submarines; and, fundamentally, whether a nuclear-powered Australian-UK-US submarine (AUKUS SSN) will ever see the light of day.

One obstacle, habitually ignored in the Australian dialogue on AUKUS, are the rumbling concerns in the US itself about transferring submarines from the US Navy in the first place. These concerns are summarised in the Congressional Research Service report released on May 22, outlining the background and issues for US politicians regarding the procurement of the Virginia (SSN-774) submarine. “One issue for Congress is whether to approve, reject, or modify DOD’s AUKUS-related legislative package for the FY2024 NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] sent to Congress on May 2, 2023.” This includes requested authorisation for the transfer of “up to two Virginia-class SSNs to the government of Australia in the form of sale, with the costs of the transfer to be covered by the government of Australia.”

A laundry list of concerns and potentially grave issues are suggested, and the report is clear that these are not exhaustive. They are also bound to send shivers down the spine of the adulatory Canberra planning establishment, so keen to keep Washington interested. There is, for instance, the question as to whether the transfer of the Virginia-class boats should be authorised as part of the 2024 financial year, or deferred “until a future NDAA.” 

There is also the matter about how many submarines should be part of the request, whether it remains up to two as per the current request, or larger numbers. With those numbers also comes the dilemma as to what vintage they will be: those with less than 33 years of expected service life, or newly minted ones with the full 33-year period of operational service. (We can already hazard a guess on that one.)

The issue of cost also looms large. What will Australia, for instance, pay for the Virginia-class vessels, and furthermore, the amount that would be needed as “a proportionate financial investment” in Washington’s own “submarine construction industrial base.” Such a potentially delicious state of affairs for US shipbuilders, who will be receiving funds from the Australian purse to accelerate ship-building efforts.

Other issues suggest questions on operational worth. What would, for instance, be the “net impact on collective allied deterrence and warfighting capabilities of transferring three to five Virginia-class boats to Australia while pursuing the construction of three to five replacement SSNs for the US Navy.” The transfer of US naval nuclear propulsion technology would come with its “benefits and risks” and should also be cognisant of broader implications to US relations with countries in the Indo-Pacific, not to mention “the overall political and security situation in” in the region.

The report takes note of sceptics who claim this “could weaken deterrence of potential Chinese aggression if China were to find reason to believe, correctly or not, that Australia might use the transferred Virginia-class boats less effectively than the US Navy would.” This is a rather damning suspicion.  Will Australian sailors either have the full capacity and skills not only to use the weaponry in their possession, but actually comply with US wishes in any deployment, even in a future conflict?

The report is particularly interesting from the perspective of assuming that Australia will retain sovereign decision-making capacity over the use of the vessels, something that can only induce much scoffing. “Australia might not involve its military, including its Virginia-class boats, in US-China crises or conflicts that Australia viewed as not engaging important Australian interests.” On that score, the report notes remarks by Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles made in March 2023 that are specifically underlined to concern Congress. Of specific interest was the claim that “no promises” had been made by Australia to the United States “that Australia would support the United States in a future conflict over Taiwan.”

This is a charming admission that members of the US Congress may well be pushing for a quid pro quo: we authorise the boat transfer; you duly affirm your commitment to shed blood with us in the next grandly idiotic battle.

There is also a notable pointer in the direction of whether an individual SSN AUKUS should even be built. Sceptics, it follows, could argue that it would be preferable that US nuclear submarines “perform both US and Australian SSN missions while Australia invests in other types of military forces, as to create a capacity for performing other military missions for both Australia and the United States.” 

This is exactly the kind of rationale that will confirm the holing of Australian sovereignty, not that there was much to begin with. But those voices marshalled against AUKUS will be able to take heart that Congress may, whatever its selfish reasons, be a formidable agent of obstruction. President Joe Biden, his successors, and the otherwise fractious electoral chambers certainly agree on one thing: America First, followed by a gaggle of allies foolishly holding the rear. 


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  1. Rocoe

    we bought second hand frigates, I think they were, some years ago from the US, they were rubbish at the end of life ships. You would think the navy would learn from it’s mistakes but apparently not

  2. Michael Taylor

    I think many Australians have their fingers crossed that this gets scuppered.

  3. ajogrady

    Albanese owns AUKUS and the massive folly AUKUS is and will be. All the warnings were there for all to see supported by the verifiable evidence that Albanese ignored. AUKUS is
    the Hunter Class Frigate fiasco on steroids, with all the same deficient failures being still in the mix. TheHunter Class Frigate is a project in such difficulty that the picture of incompetence and mismanagement in the Australian National Audit Office’ report on the Department of Defence’s Procurement of Hunter Class Frigates (Report No.21 2022-23) and evidence presented during Parliamentary scrutiny is probably a kind interpretation of the reality.

    Frigates disaster a taste of the AUKUS catastrophe to come

  4. Harry Lime

    Maybe Albanese is smarter than we give him credit for,knowing full well that this outrageous,pie in the sky submarine bullshit will never get off the ground, for all the reasons listed in the article.I really hope he is.

  5. New England Cocky

    When any country has the USA (United States of Apartheid)as an ally why do they need any other enemies?
    The Americans have been involved in almost continuous wars since 1945. How many wars have they won?
    None ….. but the NE Military Industrial Complex has sold a huge amount of armaments and made very handsome profits. ….. which was the reason for most wars. Then there are the added profits from carpetbagging the destroyed victim country.

  6. Brad Black

    Meanwhile, the arms manufacturers lie awake in bed at night counting their filthy lucre!

  7. JulianP

    Reply to Harry Lime.
    Interesting conjecture Harry. I do hope you are right.

  8. Terence Mills

    Spot on harry Lime !

    By the time these submarines are due to be built technology will have moved on and we will no longer be consigning two hundred submariners to an underwater hell.

    We are already seeing that drones are the future both in the air and under the sea.

  9. Andrew Smith

    Agree with Michael et al. on this one; newish ALP govt. are compelled to follow the previous LNP, DoD & ASPI strategy and PR in short term….. me thinks in long term there will be plenty of reasons for this project to be scuppered, or at least significantly modified, on kit.

    As it is, unclear what the future will hold, while AUKUS subs deal has Australia putting most of its defence eggs in one ‘forward defence’ basket or expensive subs, that may become outdated white elephants sooner vs. later.

  10. Roswell

    Would the French be interested in talking to us again, or have we done our dash?

  11. Canguro

    Maybe I’m just the fool on the hill as recounted by the Fab Four, the guy who sees the sun going down while the eyes in my head see the world spinning round, but isn’t the big picture issue here the planet’s approaching meltdown with the global warming crisis accelerating at an alarming rate? Why is everyone focused on the incidentals of what may well turn out to be temporary entertainment in the sideshow alley, bells & whistles, while ignoring the main show in the big arena?

    Don’t feel compelled to reply… I can find my own way out. I’m not really a fool on the hill and I fully understand the attractiveness of having opinions on ‘quote-unquote’ important topics, but I think it’s time to join the leavers, margcal, corvus borealis, roadkill cafe et al. It was fun for a while, but I tire easily these days. I wish you all well.

  12. Roswell

    Canguro, this is just one problem in a deep well of problems. We would all like to fix the lot, but yes, there are priorities and there are more pressing ones than this. But it does not mean we can ignore this.

    Besides, don’t go. I like you too much.

  13. paul walter

    Never give a sucker an even break.

    Yes, Andrew, ASPI/ procurements.
    It all is done on the quiet and must have yielded untold wealth for consultants and other shadowy figures.

  14. New England Cocky

    @ Canguro: Yes there are problems but from hard personal experience the successful resolution is only achieved by thoughtful people keeping the too many policy errors in the public limelight because the general public are more interested in football, beer and surf.
    I, for one will miss your considered contributions.
    Consider the wise words of Tony Windsor, former Independent MP for new England: ”The world is run by those who turn up”.
    If you lie down then somebody will surely step on your face …. which tends to be painful.

  15. Phil Pryor

    There are some here frustrated, restless, mutinous even, but that’s because Australia is in bad shape, has had terrible policies, if any, and bad governments across the three layers, plus, a pox of a press, a triviality of T V, ratbag radio and diversions as sport is hard pro and run puppetlike by the fat food, grog, gambling and maggoty media profiteers. The future is horrible.., my grandson works for a multinational mastodonic monolithic manipulator, my grand daughter, amidst a Ph D, has been assaulted by huge rent increases, the environment is challenged moving worse to threatened, climate problems, understood by few who may counter argue about weather stories, coming serious threats to ordinary folk, in robots, A I, the stinking world of Bezmuskzuckermurdochbergerygatesisms.
    In war and depression times of recent enough memory and comprehension, we accepted an understable level of sacrifice, suffering, prosperity, fellowship, duty and daily life. If there was a world leadership, an agreed order, we could face the dislocations of rapid change and the coming of incomprehensible new technology, We cannot, not easily, so defensiveness, greed, fear and passion still run thinking and feeling. We could save the planet, environment, peace, future balance, but, how, without agreed policy? It remains a divided world, with subdivisions of superstition, political orders, wealth and class, race and prejudice and we are still worse for all that. But good luck to us all as we pee into the headwinds of eternity.

  16. Clakka

    Subs of some kind will likely happen one way or another, but to me the whole caboodle is more about ‘pillar 2’ and ‘pillar 3’. The subs being a big US billboard (a political Marie Celeste) enabling the exchange of tech each way through Oz being deemed and ratified as a ‘domestic’ provider.

    And, just local jobs building ports and services provisions etc for rotations

    Otherwise it makes little sense, only outstripped by the blather of the DoD and the commentariat like Hartcher et al. Even for Wong it’s difficult.

    It’s all so weird, and the maths even weirder.

  17. Roswell

    Brilliant comment, Phil.

    “Bezmuskzuckermurdochbergerygatesisms.” Love it.

  18. Max Gross

    Seems to me that somebody WANTS war with China. Why? Cui bono???

  19. Terence Mills


    I noticed that our government is petitioning China to drop all restrictions on trade (i.e. our exports to them) and then I heard that we were banning all China made CCTV equipment in government facilities claiming they might be spying on us and we won’t have a bar of Huawei hitech products.

    We live in interesting times !

  20. Canguro

    @Roswell May 31, 2023 at 11:47 pm, @New England Cocky June 1, 2023 at 6:58 am, good comments both, thank you. It’s helpful to allow another perspective play into one’s normative cognitive biases.

    Cheers, appreciate the votes of support. I’ll linger longer, mebbe the longer I linger the lesser the longeur.

  21. Michael Taylor

    Good to see you, Canguro. Thrilled, actually.

    You’re good at keeping the bastards honest.

  22. Roswell

    Canguro!!! Awesome. 😀

  23. Pingback: This week’s nuclear (and climate) news | Nuclear Australia

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