The UK government has ruled out the possibility of an off-the-shelf sale of Astute Class SSNs to the Royal Australian Navy.
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The United Kingdom’s (UK) Secretary of Defence, Ben Wallace, has sought to address “confusion” over the selection process underpinning Australia’s acquisition of a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines promised under AUKUS.
Speaking at a joint press conference alongside Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles, Secretary Wallace said the final design could incorporate features of both the UK’s Astute Class and the United States’ Virginia Class platforms.
“…I think people seem to pose a question as if it’s an either/or, as if buying an American [submarine] off-the-shelf, or one of [the UK’s platforms] off-the-shelf – it’s not that,” he said.
According to Secretary Wallace, the design decision would include considerations of each of the nations’ production targets.
“AUKUS is a collaborative program between three nations and the question is how do we all get to 2035-2040 in our deliveries, which we all need for our cycles, and how collaborative can we be,” he said.
“…The ultimate [objective] is to get all of us to get through the 2030s where we produce a submarine that is in my view, truly collaborative...”
The UK defence secretary went on to rule out any off-the-shelf purchase of Astute Class submarines.
“It may not look like a submarine that none of us have on our stocks, and I can tell you that because when boat seven is out of the Astutes, that’s it,” he said.
“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.”
This comes amid calls for an off-the-shelf purchase of Virginia Class submarines, including from former defence minister and federal opposition leader Peter Dutton, who had proposed two initial direct purchases before 2030.
However, Minister Marles has rejected the idea, claiming delivery before 2030 is “extremely optimistic”.
A recently published US Congressional Research Services report also cast doubt over the feasibility of off-the-shelf purchases for Australia.
The review flagged issues relating to the US Navy’s own procurement program, which include the force-level goal and procurement rate, industrial-base challenges, and cost and schedule risks.
Secretary Wallace’s remarks followed the announcement of a deal to allow RAN personnel to train aboard HMS Anson — the UK’s latest Astute Class submarine.
The deal comes just months after the US approved legislation enabling Australian military personnel to train with US counterparts aboard Virginia Class submarines.