Naval Group’s Barracuda Class submarines were not a viable nuclear-powered submarine alternative for the Royal Australian Navy, according to Defence Minister Peter Dutton.
The fallout has continued following the establishment of the AUKUS alliance — a new trilateral partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, which will see nuclear-powered submarines built in Adelaide as part of a new knowledge sharing arrangement.
The deal signalled an end to France-based Naval Group’s controversial contract to deliver 12 diesel-powered Attack Class submarines to replace the ageing Collins Class fleet as part of its $90 billion SEA 1000 project.
The termination caught the ire of French officials, with President Emmanuel Macron recalling ambassadors to Australia and the US.
The backlash has prompted observers to question a perceived lack of consideration for a nuclear variant supplied by the former contractor, including the Barracuda Class submarine.
However, Minister for Defence Peter Dutton has dismissed the suggestion, claiming the Barracuda’s energy requirements would not have met Australia’s maintenance capacity.
“It wasn’t possible because we don’t have a nuclear industry in our country and the French model, the Barracuda model, has the need for the reactor to be charged, to be refuelled, every seven to 10 years,” Minister Dutton said.
“The technology used by [Britain] and by the United States means that the reactor remains intact for the life of the asset. So, for about 35 years, it doesn’t need to be refuelled, and, therefore, we don’t need a domestic industry around nuclear.”
Minister Dutton added the AUKUS deal was more likely to garner bipartisan support, given previous concerns over a nuclear energy industry in Australia.
“[Labor] wouldn’t have supported the purchase of the French Barracuda that required the industry around nuclear to be developed in Australia,” he said.
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“So, I think we’ve got the right balance here, and clearly the UK model [and] the US model that we’re looking at is the best in class in terms of the nuclear submarine.”
Defence open to leasing existing subs
Minister Dutton has also revealed Defence would consider leasing or buying existing nuclear-powered submarines ahead of the delivery of new platforms for the Royal Australian Navy.
“The US has also got a very significant program of development underway in their nuclear submarine program, as do the Brits and, frankly, as do the French and others,” he said.
“The Chinese are pumping out submarines and frigates and aircraft carriers etc at a record rate and so the rest of the world now, for a period of time, has really stepped up their production of those assets and that unfortunately, is the dynamic in which we’re operating at the moment.”
Further details regarding the fleet’s capability, cost, project logistics, and the delivery timeline are to be fleshed out over the next 18 months.
“I want to condense the time line. I want to reduce the cost as best I can, but it’s not going to be a cheap project, but maintaining peace is not something that comes for free,” Minister Dutton added.
[Related: AUKUS incites French fracas, PM doubles down]
News Editor – Defence and Security, Momentum Media
Prior to joining the defence and aerospace team in 2020, Charbel was news editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business, where he covered developments in the banking and financial services sector for three years. Charbel has a keen interest in geopolitics and international relations, graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a double major in politics and journalism. Charbel has also completed internships with The Australian Department of Communications and the Arts and public relations agency Fifty Acres.