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Home Articles Flashpoints Memo re AUKUS, Subs, TPNW to Albo, Penny Wong, R. Marles sent just now

Memo re AUKUS, Subs, TPNW to Albo, Penny Wong, R. Marles sent just now

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 The following has been sent just now to Anthony Albanese, Penny Wong and Richard Marles, plus DFAT.
John Hallam

25/MARCH 2023








Dear Prime Minister Albanese, Foreign Minister Penny Wong, and Defence Minister Richard Marles:

Australia is in the process of failing to make one choice that would be an overall positive for our security – signature and ratification of the TPNW or 'Ban Treaty' – and is making other choices that are profoundly negative for our security, both in armaments and technology type, and in overall diplomatic orientation.

It is certainly the case that global security and stability have nosedived in the past year or two, and that one indicator of this is the current position of the hands of the Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight, where 'midnight' equals global thermonuclear war and the potential end of civilisation and possibly of humans as a species. Policies that fail to take this into consideration are dangerous and irresponsible.

It might be argued by some that Australia does indeed, require a replacement and an upgrade in its submarine forces.

In the event of the ultimate 'bad event', i.e. global thermonuclear war, to which the world is closer than ever in history, of course, submarines of whatever kind will be completely irrelevant – what might be more to the point would be to minimise the incentives for anyone (Russia, China) to attack us in the first place, and a drastic upgrade in civil defence preparedness including the construction of bunkers and evacuation plans. No Government in recent Australian history has given even the slightest consideration to such measures. They need to be considered.

But let us assume that somehow, an immediate term threat exists or that one could exist if a few more things go wrong, and that submarines are a capability that is in some way relevant or will somehow improve our immediate/short-term security.

It is still by no means clear that a nuclear submarine is the machine for the job, and claims are being made about the performance of nuclear submarines as opposed to advanced conventional subs, that are at best misleading, and that are disputed by many in the submarine community.

In addition – and this is critical – the threat horizon for, e.g., hostilities over Taiwan (in which Australia should not involve itself anyway) – is relatively immediate to short term – the next 1-2-3-5 years.

However the delivery timetable for even a 'second-hand' Virginia class sub will be 2030 at the earliest and more likely 2032/3. The timetable for AUKUS-class subs is much further out, by 2040.

These are of course the 'official' dates. The potential for both delivery delays and of course cost blowouts (in a 370Bn price-tag) is overwhelming. Thus far, as far as I know, NO Australian major defence project has ever arrived on time or within budget. A high tech project such as this one with many 'moving parts' is overwhelmingly likely to be neither on time nor within budget. The necessity for major new Australian infrastructure both at Osborne (to be tripled in size) and elsewhere (W.A.,) while potentially beneficial for industry at those places, merely reinforces the potential for cost overrun and delay.

We are repeatedly and emphatically told that the Virginia Class sub is not merely faster and longer range underwater, but that it is 'more stealthy' that a diesel sub such as Collins, while running on batteries.

Overall, the stealthiness of nuclear subs over advanced conventional ones is at best moot. Nuclear subs do not have to 'snort' and have better speed and range underwater. The need to 'snort' and underwater speed and range could be drastically improved by use of AIPS and better batteries such as those of recent Japanese submarines.

However, while actually underwater, and on battery power, the Collins Class sub – the one we have now – has ALREADY demonstrated superiority to the Virginia class sub, with which it is to be replaced!

Indeed, advanced conventional subs have it seems , frequently demonstrated their ability to evade nuclear submarines.

A case in point is the ability of the Collins Class sub to evade a US naval task force including a US nuclear sub and carry out a 'kill' on a US destroyer in exercises in 2011.


Also, the ability of the Swedish Gotland Class (on which Collins is based) sub to 'sink' the USS Ronald Reagan:


Nuclear submarines, even though they have become quieter and quieter over the years must constantly run pumps even when otherwise shut down. Turbines (nuclear power plans are basically steam turbines) run very fast and have to employ gear chains or electrical systems or both. These unavoidably make noise.

On the other hand, diesel subs running on battery are all but completely silent. Conventional subs equipped with AIPS (Air-Independent Propulsion) use fuel cells which are silent, or Stirling engines likewise silent.

These drawbacks which seem purely technical are important because they compromise the one thing most important to submarines – silence.

Nuclear subs are also bigger (hence more detectable) and emit heat and radiation (also detectable).

Point is that a nuclear submarine running underwater (Say Virginia) is NOISIER than an advanced conventional sub running underwater. Which is why in 2011, an Australian Collins class was able to evade (see without being seen) the very model of sub with which it is scheduled to be replaced.

It is true that conventional diesel subs do have to 'snort' from time to time. AIPS can minimise this necessity and snorting can still be done quieter.

Above all a conventional sub, an upgraded Collins or 'son of Collins' can be ready in a few years while a nuclear sub will be God-knows when and at God knows what ultimate price-tag.

As pointed out in a letter by me a year ago:

It has been suggested by some analysts that progress in ASW technology may make ALL submarines 'obsolete' by 2040, as the seas become increasingly transparent to new developments in sonar and AI.  There is no evidence the Government has paid the slightest attention to this possibility. 






These advances in ASW technology may or may not make life unviable for subs. It will certainly make life harder. A major factor in submarine survival will be the capability to be ultra-stealthy. Nuclear submarines do not excel in this department, but in underwater speed and range.

These potential ASW developments tell far more against nuclear submarines than against the far more invisible and inaudible advanced conventional submarines with air-independent propulsion, that are smaller, more manoeuvrable, and much better able to 'disappear' in the depths of the ocean than much larger and noisier nuclear subs.

The bottom line to all of this is that it is by no means clear that nuclear submarines are even the technology we want. They are NOT quieter than conventional subs running on batteries or with AIPS but noisier. They don't have to 'snort' but that can be minimised. They DO potentially have more power and range. They are more likely, not less likely, to be negatively affected by developments in ASW as they are bigger and emit both heat and radiation.

There are a range of infrastructural problems that nuclear subs come with that 'Son of Collins' would never encounter, ranging from the need for much bigger and more specialised facilities as Osborne, to the need to dispose of nuclear waste – or maybe of entire used nuclear reactors – at a site in Australia.

And given that potential security threats to Australia are an immediate to short term eventuality, they simply will not arrive on time to be of any help whatsoever.

Finally, nuclear submarines, whether or not they carry nuclear weapons, will – partly because of the AUKUS tie-up itself – make their facilities into potential nuclear targets even if before they were not, or were less likely to be targeted.

Accordingly you are urged to reconsider the entire AUKUS plan.

This brings me to the second and third parts of my letter.

The TPNW and nuclear risk reduction.

I noted your reply – or non – rely – to Zali Steggle the other day.

In spite of the overwhelming commitment of Labour caucus and Labour policy to the TPNW, you did not seem to commit to the TPNW. I hope I have misunderstood.

There have been some positive moves in this direction of course, and the sending of observers to TPNW meetings is a step in the right direction. There need to be more steps.

However, Australia DOES need to move expeditiously to actual signature and ratification, and to urging of others to sign and ratify, the TPNW.

Doing so would have distinct security benefits for Australia, and make us less of a potential nuclear target.

In addition, Australia needs to do much much more in the area of nuclear risk reduction, an area which we keep saying is, or should be, a priority.

We are told Australia is or was doing something behind the scenes in the UN. It seems to be so behind the scenes as to be as invisible as a Collins class or Son of Collins running on batteries in a deep ocean trench. Australia needs to take a leading role in nuclear (war) risk reduction, and that cannot and should not be 'invisible'.

You are urged to take this duly on board. It is the TPNW that Australian security needs, not AUKUS.


John Hallam

Nuclear Disarmament Campaigner

People for Nuclear Disarmament

Human Survival Project

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