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RAN nuclear submarines will ‘change the balance of power in the Indian Ocean’: Retired US Navy admiral says

Admiral (Ret’d) Harry Harris Jr told the US House Armed Services Committee that the Royal Australian Navy’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines would be “dramatic” and shift the balance of power in the Indian Ocean.

Admiral (Ret’d) Harry Harris Jr told the US House Armed Services Committee that the Royal Australian Navy’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines would be “dramatic” and shift the balance of power in the Indian Ocean.

According to ADM (Ret’d) Harris, former Commander of the US Pacific Fleet and US Ambassador to South Korea, nuclear submarines would give the RAN a “long reach” and provide Australia with a blue water navy.

A blue water navy is capable of sustaining global operations at substantial distances from friendly operating bases. 

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While ADM (Ret’d) Harris acknowledged that there may be challenges in arming the Australian Defence Force with nuclear-powered submarines, he maintained optimistic that the joint resources of the US, the UK and Australian governments would enable the AUKUS partners to expedite the currently projected timeframes.

“It’s a decade-long process,” he told the committee.

“The Chief of Naval Operations has said it can be 30 years before we see an Australian nuclear submarine.

“I’ve said that if we put our hearts and minds to it, and our resources to it — and by ours, I mean the United States, the UK’s and Australia’s — we can do this faster than that. I mean, we put a man on the moon in eight years … we can do this.”

Despite the recent concerns raised by members of the US Senate Armed Services Committee earlier in the year, ADM (Ret’d) Harris threw his support behind the AUKUS technology transfer.

“They are our key ally in that part of the world.

“I’m all for it.”

The committee confirmed that the timelines for the acquisition would be announced within a month.

In January, concerns were raised by Senator Jack Reed and Senator James Inhofe casting doubt over the ability for US industry to construct Virginia Class submarines for Australia while also meeting operational demand from the US Navy. 

In a letter addressed to President Joe Biden, and subsequently leaked to news outlet Breaking Defense, the pair allege that the construction of the submarines would push US defence industry to “breaking point”.

“Over the past year, we have grown more concerned about the state of the US submarine industrial base as well as its ability to support the desired AUKUS SSN end state,” the pair wrote. 

“We are concerned that what was initially touted as a ‘do no harm’ opportunity to support Australia and the United Kingdom and build long-term competitive advantages for the US and its pacific allies, may be turning into a zero-sum game for scarce, highly advanced US SSNs.”

Senator Reed was the committee chairman and Senator Inhofe the ranking member at the time of writing.

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