Naval Group: Nuclear submarines not on the agenda

Naval Group: Nuclear submarines not on the agenda
Naval Group's illustration of the Barracuda for the French Navy

Former prime minister Tony Abbott put the nuclear submarine debate back on the table last week, creating much political discussion, but the platform system integrator has dampened the hopes of those pushing for submarines with nuclear capability.

Defence Connect recently spoke with Brent Clark, chief executive of Naval Group Australia (formerly known as DCNS Australia), where he revealed the government has not once spoken to the company about nuclear submarines.


"At no point has the government or the department ever spoken to us about nuclear power," said Clark.

"So the simple answer is no, we've never spoken about it at all."

However, Naval Group does have the capabilities to provide a nuclear attack submarine. Australia's Future Submarine Shortfin Barracuda is a variation of Naval Group's nuclear Barracuda design, albeit with conventionally powered diesel electric capabilities. The French Navy will commission its first unit of the nuclear Barracuda Class in 2018.

"Of course from a Naval Group perspective, as you know, we build nuclear submarines, so of course, if the government of Australia wanted to acquire nuclear submarines we would be able to help them," Clark stated.

The possibility of developing nuclear submarines as part of a select number of the 12 Future Submarines ordered by Australia later on has been floated in the industry, which Clark did not rule out as a possibility for both Naval Group and other primes with nuclear capabilities.

"If we got into a nuclear submarine discussion I'm sure we would be able to ask companies like BAE Systems that produce the C-class and of course General Dynamics Electric Boat would produce the Virginia Class in the US," he said.

Ultimately, the possibility of nuclear submarines will not be a viable option unless Australia is to lean on its allies like the US and France, as Abbott suggested, or until a nuclear industry is embraced by the Australian public, according to South Australia's Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith.

"That would require a decision at the national level, with community buy-in for Australia to embrace nuclear capabilities more broadly," Minister Hamilton-Smith said.

"And it would appear that that social licence is not there at the moment. So, regardless, it wouldn't really matter what South Australia would want, I think it would matter what the national government of the day thought and the other states. Because it would need to be a bipartisan decision, supported across the political divide."

Currently, the US, Russia, France, the UK, China and India all deploy some form of nuclear submarines. Other countries, including Argentina and Brazil, have ongoing projects in different phases to build nuclear-powered submarines.

The first of Australia's 12 Future Submarines is likely to begin entering service in the early 2030s. Construction of the 12 new submarines will extend into the late 2040s to 2050 timeframe.


Naval Group: Nuclear submarines not on the agenda
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