September 13, 2023
Earlier last month, the U.S. Virginia-class nuclear submarine USS North Carolina visited Australia. This was the first American submarine visit since the AUKUS plan to develop an Australian nuclear submarine capability was announced in March. This visit is a major down payment on America’s promise to build modern nuclear attack submarines with Australia over the next two decades.
This promise will not be easy to keep. Some still question if the nuclear submarine program is the smartest way for Australia to protect its waters and to project force. Among those raising questions are members of Australia’s ruling Labor Party, who this week will seek a motion to drop support for the nuclear submarine-centered AUKUS initiative from the Labor party platform.
Meanwhile, U.S. – Australian collaboration on another long-range strike technology, hypersonic missiles, is picking up with senior U.S. Pentagon officials publicly discussing the benefit of using Australia’s open territories as the ideal testing ground for future missiles the US and Australia plan to develop. China is now voicing objections to this work that are nearly as loud as their campaign to block the AUKUS submarine project.
All of these developments are new. To explore them, this workshop featured two brief presentations. The first presentation was by Vice Admiral (Ret.) Robert Thomas, a career submarine officer, a former Director of the Navy Staff, and commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet. The second was by USAF Colonel (Ret.) Mark Gunzinger, Director of Future Concepts and Capability Assessments at the Air Force’s Institute’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.