March 29, 2023
On March 13, 2023, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rushil Sunak joined President Biden in San Diego to announce the latest details on the joint AUKUS nuclear submarine project. News coverage of this event suggested the announcement may lack key details, such as the specific submarine design and any hard deadlines. The reason why is simple: Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom has sufficient submarine manufacturing capacity to help build Australia any existing submarine designs.
There is one country that might have the capacity to help out, and that’s France. Given the embarrassment of Australia having to terminate an earlier contract with France to build conventional, non-nuclear submarines, having France now help Australia build nuclear submarines may be too politically awkward to exercise immediately. The question is, might this option, nonetheless, make sense in the mid-term?
This option was discussed in a private virtual workshop with two naval policy experts, Antoine Bondaz, Research Fellow and Director of the Indo-Pacific Observatory for the Ministry of Armed forces, and Bryan Clark, a former enlisted and officer submariner and Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Defense Concepts and Technology at Hudson Institute.