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Australia talks down prospect of having nuclear subs by 2030

Australia’s new defence minister is talking down the prospect of Australia acquiring US nuclear-powered submarines by the end of the decade (Danial Hakim/AP)
Australia’s new defence minister is talking down the prospect of Australia acquiring US nuclear-powered submarines by the end of the decade (Danial Hakim/AP)

Australia’s new defence minister is talking down the prospect of Australia acquiring US nuclear-powered submarines by the end of the decade.

Defence minister Richard Marles, whose party came to power at elections last month, said his priority was closing a naval capability gap that is expected to open when Australia’s aging fleet of six Collins-class diesel-electric submarines begins to retire from 2038.

The United States and Britain have agreed to provide Australia with a fleet of submarines powered by US nuclear technology. But when the agreement was announced in September, the first submarine was not expected to be delivered until 2040.

Former defence minister Peter Dutton said this month that the United States could be persuaded to provide Australia with two Virginia-class submarines from its Connecticut production line by 2030.

Australia Ukraine
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (Mark Baker/AP)

Mr Marles, who is acting prime minister while Anthony Albanese is overseas, doubted Australia would have a single nuclear-powered submarine by 2030.

“I think that is optimistic in the extreme,” Mr Marles told Australian Broadcasting Corp, saying the previous government had expected a delivery date in the 2040s.

But he added: “We will be looking at every option available to try and bring that time forward.”

Mr Dutton, who is now opposition leader, said China would have the technology to detect Collins-class submarines in the South China Sea by 2035.

Unlike nuclear submarines, diesel-electric submarines have to surface and run on diesel-propulsion while they recharge their batteries. China is developing technology that would detect submarines on the surface, Mr Dutton said.

Mr Albanese plans to visit French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris this week to repair bilateral relations that soured in September when the previous Australian government tore up a 90 billion Australian dollar (£51 billion) contract for a French state-owned company to build a fleet of 12 diesel-electric submarines.