Collins class submarines on patrol. (Royal Australian Navy)
Collins class submarines on patrol. (Royal Australian Navy)

Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have agreed a new trilateral defence partnership (AUKUS) which, in its first landmark announcement, revealed that the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) would receive nuclear powered submarines to replace its six ageing diesel-electric Collins class boats.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called it a recommitment to a “new AUKUS vision,’ which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said would help to “preserve security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.” He deliberately emphasised the fact that the submarines would only be nuclear powered, not be nuclear armed.

The partnership will jointly explore and share technology on key defence areas including cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and undersea technology among others.

France has reacted badly to the news, firstly as it has not been included in the partnership, and secondly because its Naval Group was due to provide the RAN with a 12 Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A Attack Class submarines to replace the Collins class.

On Thursday the Naval Group issued a statement, which part of which read:

“This is a major disappointment for Naval Group, which was offering Australia a regionally superior conventional submarine with exceptional performances. Naval Group was also offering Australia a sovereign submarine capability making unrivalled commitments in terms of technology transfer, jobs and local content. 

For five years, Naval Group teams, both in France and in Australia, as well as our partners, have given their best and Naval Group has delivered on all its commitments. 

The Naval Group had previously stated that it was working to ensure that 60 percent of the contract value would be spent in Australia through new supply chains.

Reacting to the announcement, Chinese Embassy spokesperson said that the nations involved “should not build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties” – somewhat contracting China’s own increasing international arms sales, some of which resulting from its Belt & Road policy.

Andrew Drwiega at DSEI, London.