U.S. admiral issues sharp warning about Australian submarine construction in overburdened shipyards

U.S. admiral issues sharp warning about Australian submarine construction in overburdened shipyards

A senior US Navy official warned that Australia’s help to acquire nuclear submarines could be too much of a burden for already overstretched US shipyards.

During an online forum, the executive director of the US strategic submarine program was asked about the US shipbuilding workforce and the implications of the AUKUS partnership with Australia.

Rear Admiral Scott Pappano said the ambitious plan could thwart his own national nuclear submarine program, as well as that of the United Kingdom, in a comment to the Mitchell Aerospace Institute.

“If you are asking my opinion, if we were going to add additional submarine construction to our industrial base, it would hurt us right now,” said Admiral Pappano.

The rear admiral added that significant investment would be required to provide “additional capacity, the ability to do this.”

“I won’t speak for the UK, but I think it exists for both the US and the UK that we’re looking at right now,” he said.

The Department of Defense is currently undertaking an 18-month study of Australia’s best option for acquiring nuclear submarines, and the report is due to make formal recommendations in March.

Earlier this year, former defense secretary-turned-opposition leader Peter Dutton said he was confident Australia could get two American-made Virginia-class nuclear submarines by 2030.

Mr. Dutton insisted that if the Coalition had remained in power, it could “make an announcement around July-August” to acquire American-made nuclear submarines.

Private bookings

US naval figures have long voiced private concerns about allowing Australia to join the US nuclear submarine production line, but Admiral Pappano’s comments are the strongest public intervention yet.

In a speech at the Mitchell Institute, Admiral Pappano predicted that America’s submarine production in fiscal year 2025 is expected to be five times what it was two years ago.

The increase in workload includes doubling the construction of the latest Virginia-class submarines to two per year, as well as the introduction of a new version of the Virginia class, known as the Block V, which allows more Tomahawk cruise missiles to be used.

Later in the decade, production of next-generation Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, or SSBNs, should also begin.

Admiral Pappano said the US Navy is working with local shipbuilders to get the Columbia-class boats six months ahead of schedule, cutting the delivery schedule from 84 months to 78 months.

UK calls submarines ‘joint program’

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace observed that Australia’s future nuclear submarines under the AUKUS agreement were not “a question of type or type” between British or American projects, but could be a joint program of the three countries.

He said the Australian submarine “might look like none of us have one in our inventory” as the latest designs of Post-Astute class submarines are fully utilized by Australia, the UK and the US.

“The question is, how do we get to 2035 and 2040 in our supplies (submarine building) that we all need?” Mr Wallace said.

“We need to be truly collaborative as possible, we can have a little bit of all three and in the meantime we have helped to contribute to building the skill base, manpower and operational fleet to achieve that. “

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