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Astute-class submarine not an option for Australia, says UK government

The UK Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, has effectively ruled out an Astute-class submarine as the nuclear-powered replacement for Australia’s six Collins-class conventional submarines.

Speaking at the commissioning of HMS Anson in the UK, Mr Wallace noted that the UK, USA and Australia are all on roughly the same timeline to replace their existing submarines and suggested that a new common design could emerge that meets the needs of all of the AUKUS partners.

The ultimate is to get all of us to get through the 2030s where we produce a submarine that is in my view, truly collaborative, might have a bit of all three on it.,” Secretary of State Wallace said. “So, it may not look like a submarine that one of us have on our stocks, and I can tell you that because when boat seven [of the Astute-class] is out, that’s it. We are onto our next design and our new one, and that might well be fully shared with all three nations as a collaborative design.”

Mr Wallace explained that Australia’s choice of nuclear powered submarine will not be an either/or – a US off the shelf submarine versus a UK one.

“It’s not that,” he said.  “What’s really key here is we’re in the same cycle for the next generation.” Mr Wallace noted that some of the Astute-class boats are already ten years old and that the UK’s next generation of attack submarines will enter the water during the 2030s. “Same for the Australians,” he pointed out. “So, hopefully, we’ll get it in a place of convergence…. a truly UK–US–Australian enterprise.

Australian Minister for Mefence and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles  said cost is not the only factor driving Australia’s decision-making process: Cost is clearly a factor, obviously, but it’s not the only factor.

“We need to be thinking about capability and that is what is driving this process in the first place. We need a long-range, highly capable submarine, and what that means going forward needs to be nuclear power. So, capability is fundamental. But also, we need to be thinking through the solution of how we can get this capability as soon as possible, given the lost decade that we have had. So, the timing, capability, costs – they all factor into the decision that we need to make.”

At the commissioned of HMAS Anson Mr Wallace and Australian Minister for Defence and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles also announced that Australian submariners would train aboard the submarine.

“Australia is embarking on the next generation of submarines and in doing so, ensuring we have Royal Australian Navy personnel training with our partners under the AUKUS partnership,” he said. “Today‘s announcement of Australian submariners training aboard HMS Anson says everything about our future plans of building the AUKUS partnership.”

The US Congress has also opened the way legislatively for Australian submariners to train alongside their US Navy counterparts.

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