Why the RAN needs nuclear powered-submarines

November 25, 2019
Australian Navy Collins Class submarine, HMAS Rankin – photo licenced from Alamy

Although the first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, embarked on its maiden voyage as long as 65 years ago, still only six countries operate nuclear submarines today. These are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (US, China, Britain, France and Russia) together with India. These countries all have larger economies than Australia and they all have nuclear industries. Australia does not support a nuclear power industry, although one experimental reactor, located in southern Sydney, produces isotopes for nuclear medicine. These issues, together with political concerns around supposed widespread opposition to nuclear science in Australia, have meant that while some governments have flirted with the idea of acquiring nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) in the past, this has always come to naught. One additional reason for this has been ongoing opposition from both the US Navy and the British Royal Navy to the acquisition of SSNs by the Royal Australian Navy.

The attached article was written by a retired Royal Navy Admiral who has examined the issue in depth and has changed his mind. Chris Stanford now sees a strong operational case for the RAN to acquire SSNs. He suggests that while there are some formidable challenges along the way, they are by no means insuperable.

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