As an island nation, Australia was one of the first navies in the world to employ subs: The AE2 was deployed inside the Dardanelles during the attack on Gallipoli.
Australia always wanted nuclear submarines.
The decision behind choosing the French Barracuda Class subs in the 2015 was that they were actually a nuclear submarine being redesigned with a diesel engine. As the twelve subs were to be built and delivered in batches of three, there was inside talk that the first two batches would be diesel and then a transition made to nuclear for the remainder. This was well known and discussed within defence industry circles and reported at the time.
There were problems of course with the submarine project; as there are with most major military infrastructure projects. Just look at the F35s! These problems were the excuse rather than the reason behind the cancellation of the French contract and the French Government knows this.
The Virginia Class subs Australia will be building require very highly enriched weapons grade nuclear fuel. This would be the first step in an expansion to a huge nuclear industry.
However, while the start of the Australian built Virginia Class SSNs is still at least two years away, there are more immediate issues regarding Australia’s embracing of nuclear submarine technology.
The first is that as a part of getting our own subs, we will also host US nuclear submarines. This has led to discussions in the US about the development of a de-facto submarine base in Western Australia. With WA Premier Mark McGowan castigating Morrison for choosing South Australia as the production base for the subs, the construction of infrastructure at HMAS Stirling could commence relatively soon which would have the added incentive of shoring up support for Government over there.
Our second concern builds on the previous one: we may well acquire nuclear submarines before we commence building our own Virginia Class. THE US Navy is considering how to end its deployment of its currently ageing Los Angeles Class SSNs. Most of the older LA’s are retried and while the younger ones still have a bit of life in them, it would be uneconomic for the US to keep maintaining them as they re-tool their maintenance facilities to cater to the Virginia Class. Yet they do have some reactor cores still available to refuel them. US Submarine Squadron 15, based nearby in Guam stations four of the youngest LA Class subs. As Guam is needed for the some of the sixteen new Virginia Class currently under construction, there is already some backroom talk about providing two of these to Australia on a kind of lend-lease arrangement until our own subs are built; which would coincide with the end of the LA’s ten year replacement reactor core’s life.
This could mean both that Australia acquires nuclear submarines almost immediately and that the US earns itself a de-facto base in WA at absolutely no cost. The remaining two LA Class could well end up at the new joint US Australian Naval Base Lombrum being developed on Manus Island.