February 26, 2024

SECRET Clauses of AUKUS SSN Agreement

In response to some of French Anonymous' February 2, 2024 comments: 

If France sold Barracuda SSNs to Australia and, because they use LEU, France agreed to accept Australian Barracudas (including spent LEU) being returned to France this may be attractive to Australia. 

This is because clauses of the AUKUS agreement require: 

1. (reported but actual wording SECRET) a Low to Intermediate level nuclear waste Dump being built in Australia for waste arising from US and Australian Virginia and SSN-AUKUS maintenance. The dump will be at Fleet Base West ie. Perth Naval Base. 

2. (actual wording SECRET) Australia must dispose of high level radioactive materials and Australian Virginia and Australian SSN-AUKUS subs once these SSNs are decommissioned. 

3. (TOP SECRET) - The UK will bear much of the SSN-AUKUS burden for Australia if Australia accepts all/some part of the irradiated reactor compartments of the UK's decommissioned SSNs and SSBNs including High Level Radioactive waste, in a future Australian High Level Nuclear Waste Dump.

See AUKUS Briefing Book https://securityanddefenceplus.plusalliance.org/aukus-briefing-book/ and AUKUS Factsheet contains a complex and ambiguous network of overlapping responsibilities. See below official AUKUS flow chart. Nuclear Waste Dumps for Australia may be under "Nuclear  Stewardship" and/or "Non-Proliferation" and/or, more explicitly, under one of the three "Classified or Not Disclosed" activities under "Submarines" below. 

Off Topic - One of the "Classified or Not Disclosed" activities would be a Security Liaison Group mainly led by the FBI, ASIO (here and here) and MI5. They would be making high level decisions on Counter Espionage, Foreign Interference, Cybersecurity and high level Vetting as those topics relate to AUKUS.



February 24, 2024

Is India Actually Using Both Its Carriers?

I'm wondering whether India has used its two newish carriers (INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant) for operations?

Have they been part of Indian carrier group exercises?

Has their strategic purpose been merely as a counter to China's carrier developments?

February 23, 2024

France's Naval Nuclear Worker Shortage: No Barracudas for RAN

A France wide lack of nuclear workers foils claims France could deliver Barracuda SSNs to Australia quickly and easily – outside of the likely delay: 2050 or later (see my previous article).

Also Barracudas lack all important VLS. Only VLS can launch ever larger diameter future longer range hypersonic missiles for land attack. Such missiles would act as a partial deterrent against China.

On nuclear workers see the French source “France’s struggle to deliver a second nuclear era” by Sarah White in Saint-Marcel (France) at the Financial Times APRIL 23 2023

at https://www.ft.com/content/d23b14ae-2c4e-458c-af8a-22692119f786 which includes:

“France, which employs some 220,000 people in the nuclear industry, needs to rebuild a deep bench of qualified workers for its new nuclear drive. Among them will be highly trained welders like Geoffray and his colleagues — EDF estimates France will need double the 500 it has today by 2030. At the Hefaïs welding school launched last year by the company and other manufacturers near Cherbourg, on the northern coast close to France’s nuclear submarine shipyards, the complexities of even that task are apparent.  

After nine months of training there, including with headsets on virtual equipment, they can qualify for a first job, says Corentin Lelièvre, the school’s director. But it can take five to seven years of experience and repeat training before they are entrusted with the most intricate tasks.

Those can require developing a quasi-acrobatic skill of being able to keep a steady hand while working upside down, or using a mirror in cramped corners of a reactor circuit to guide the weld — a one-shot operation that workers can’t go back on once it’s started. It also involves learning to work safely in a radioactive environment, and in a post-Fukushima world, how to grapple with extra layers of documentation.”

++++++++++++

France’s future “PA-NG” nuclear aircraft carrier + its two future K22 reactors are two more major nuclear projects confronting France’s naval nuclear worker shortage.

February 21, 2024

No early SSN (even in 2032?) for the RAN

As Virginias for the RAN might only arrive in the late 2030s, it is fortunate the first Collins LOTE is scheduled from "mid-2026". See the Australian Submarine Agency (ASA) reference https://www.asa.gov.au/aukus/collins-class-submarines

US Virginias

The most authoritative source, the ASA, is no longer talking first Virginia for Australia in 2032. Rather ASA is on record as writing https://www.asa.gov.au/aukus/australias-nuclear-powered-submarines :

"The United States intends to sell Australia 3 Virginia Class SSNs (nuclear-powered submarines) from as soon as the early 2030s, which was authorised by the US Congress in December 2023. Australia retains the option to seek approval for up to 2 more if needed....". 

The US offer very much relies on much higher yearly Virginia production, through to commissioning, rates of Virginias than the US (now also entering full Columbia SSBN production) has been able to achieve since the 1990s. 

Also a US President in the 2030s must be satisfied that the USN is receiving all the Virginias it needs before he/she can approve any spare Virginias for Australia.  

UK SSN-AUKUS

The UK's final Astute (Agincourt) might be commissioned in 2026 or later. Simultaneously many of the UKs limited nuclear sub building force will be committed to the 4 new generation SSBN (Dreadnought) program until about 2045. This is if Dreadnoughts are  commissioned every 4 years from 2033  see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreadnought-class_submarine#Boats_of_the_class

About the SSN-AUKUS for Australia the Australian Submarine Agency writes - see https://www.asa.gov.au/aukus/australias-nuclear-powered-submarines :

"The UK will commence construction of its first SSN-AUKUS in Barrow-in-Furness UK, as early as the late 2020s. The UK intends to deliver its first SSN-AUKUS to the UK Royal Navy in the late 2030s

[It is only after SSN-AUKUS are delivered to the UK RN that they can be completed at Osborne, Adelaide, for the RAN.]

Hence the Australian Submarine Agency, very ambiguously on timings, writes - https://www.asa.gov.au/aukus/australias-nuclear-powered-submarines :

"Australia's nuclear-powered submarines - SSN-AUKUS - will be based on the UK's next generation design that incorporates technology from all 3 nations, including cutting edge US submarine technologies."

In plain English the UK RN will need to commission its first SSN-AUKUS from "late 2030s" then one should expect several years of trials before commissioning this first-of-class (say 2042) then years to tool up Osborne, Adelaide for production - (say from 2045).

French Barracuda SSNs

There is a myth that France could deliver SSNs to the RAN simply and more quickly if President Macron or Naval Group so will it. But France's very limited NUCLEAR (as distinct from CONVENTIONAL) submarine designing-building workforce are mainly committed to finishing their own Navy's last Barracudas - until 2031 see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barracuda-class_submarine_%28France%29#Boats

In parallel the balance of France's NUCLEAR submarine workforce are working on France's 3rd Generation SSBN (French acronym "SNLE 3G") see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SNLE_3G#Design_and_operation  :

"first steel [was] cut for the vessels in 2023 and completed submarines delivered at a rate of one every five years from 2035, with the programme completing in 2050." 

All this means is France will not have some nuclear manpower resources for any Australian  Barracuda SSN Project until the late 2040s, if not after 2050. That includes too few Frenchmen even to train up an Australian workforce - with our workforce totally inexperienced in building SSNs.

Hedging Plan

As SSNs from the US are politically unprovable until the 2030s and unlikely to be in the form of SSN-AUKUS for the RAN before 2045, and even less likely and later from France, a hedging plan is appropriate. That is:

 -  as ASA has written, Australia doing its Collins LOTE. I suggest Saab with its experience, effectively LOTEing the Gotland-class, can assist see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gotland-class_submarine#Mid-life_upgrade_contract . 

-  Australia is also developing XLUUVs (partly under AUKUS Pillar 2). XLUUVs can lay smartmines, do electronic intercepts and other reconnaissance and even tow sonars. 

-  Australia alongside the US and UK, partly under AUKUS, could develop ever longer range missiles for long range strike, including anti-shipping. Such missiles already include Tomahawks. New types of longer range hypersonic (steerable) missiles are where the West's peer competitors (China and Russia) are venturing. For example something like a Western equivalent of China's DF-26 (anti-ship capable) missile may be of medium-long term value for Australia.  

It is no coincidence that Australia is developing dual-use long range missile capabilities under cover of NASA assistance (see the "Mar 2018" and "Jul 2018" items here) in Australia's Gilmour Space Technologies "Block 1" "rocket" or missile

Please don't get me started on the possibilities of the Australian developed third generation "SILEX" laser enrichment of Uranium technology or where I'm going might be too obvious...

February 17, 2024

February 15, 2024

Would-be "SSN Countries" US Rejected: RL32418 Part 1.

Much military information, normally Secret throughout the West, Russia and China, is Unclassified in the US, via the US Government supported/manned Congressional Research Service (CRS).

See the CRS' February 13, 2024 report RL32418

titled “Navy Virginia-Class Submarine Program and AUKUS Submarine Proposal: Background and Issues for Congress”

at https://sgp.fas.org/crs/weapons/RL32418.pdf

For the record - Excerpts include:

[Page 16] "Previous Countries That Requested but Did Not Receive U.S. Naval Nuclear Propulsion Technology 

Overview

U.S. submarine technology and naval nuclear propulsion technology, reflecting decades of cumulative U.S. Navy research, development, design, construction, and operational experience, are generally considered crown jewels of U.S. military technology and consequently are highly protected. As noted earlier, the technical (including acoustic) superiority of U.S. Navy nuclear powered submarines is generally considered a foundation of U.S. superiority in undersea warfare, which in turn underpins a U.S. ability to leverage the world’s oceans as a medium of operations and maneuver, deny that to others, and thereby generate a huge asymmetric strategic advantage for the United States. 

Given both its high degree of importance to overall U.S. national security strategy and U.S. technical superiority in the field, U.S. naval nuclear propulsion technology to date has been shared with only one other country—the UK, through an arrangement begun in 1958 reflecting the U.S.-UK special relationship and U.S.-UK cooperation on nuclear-related matters dating back to the Manhattan project in World War II. 

[Page 17] As detailed below, during the Cold War, when the United States and its allies were engaged in an extended, high-stakes, and costly strategic competition against the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact allies, the United States reportedly turned down requests from four U.S. treaty allies [other than the UK, namely]—France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Japan—to share U.S. naval nuclear propulsion technology. A fifth U.S. treaty ally—Canada—also requested but did not receive this technology. 

Canada canceled its SSN project before the United States acted fully on Canada’s request. A sixth country, Pakistan, also requested but did not receive the technology.

Detailed Discussion

In a November 18, 1987, presentation at a conference in Ottawa, Canada, U.S. Navy Captain Robert F. Hofford, the U.S. naval attaché in Ottawa—who stated that he was expressing his own views, which did not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. government—stated that 

Canada is not the only country that has requested this particular advantage from the U.S. As a matter of fact, Canada stands at the end of a line of about six different nations [other than the UK] that have requested exactly the same support from the U.S. for [a] nuclear submarine program. In fact we have turned them all down up to this point, so Canada is in a unique position of being the first country other than the British to be allowed or to even start a technology information flow that will allow the country to pursue its lines toward a nuclear program.39 

Regarding France, Italy, and the Netherlands, a November 5, 1987, letter from Representative Melvin Price to Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger and Secretary of Energy John S. Herrington, the full text of which is reprinted in Appendix E, states in part

It is important to appreciate that there is nothing new about an ally wanting our naval nuclear propulsion technology—or about the consistently strong U.S. policy against its releases. Over the years, we have turned down requests from a number of countries, including France, Italy, and the Netherlands.

 Regarding France, a 1989 journal article on assistance that the United States provided to France on the design of French nuclear warheads stated 

One area in which the French requested but did not receive help was in antisubmarine warfare (ASW) technology and, in particular, in silencing their own ballistic missile submarines to make them less easily tracked by Soviet hunter-killers. The U.S. Navy adamantly opposed any such assistance. Behind the navy’s position was the extreme sensitivity of its own counter-ASW regime. “The security of our Poseidon-Trident force was so important that we were not going to share with anybody else the methods we used to preserve it,” a senior civilian told me. Another said, “This is a jewel the navy will give to no one.”40 

Regarding Japan, Admiral Kinnaird R. McKee, then-Director of the U.S. Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program (aka Naval Reactors), testified in March 1988: 

Frankly, I think Japan is smart enough, if they really want to, to develop a phase-to-phase [sic: phased-array] radar.41 They have also asked us for help in nuclear submarines. We say[,] “If you want to get into the nuclear submarine business, go ahead and do it. You don’t need our help.”42

Regarding Pakistan, Admiral McKee testified in March 1988: “We have a letter from the Pakistanis who want one [i.e., a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine] because the Soviets gave [sic: leased] one [i.e., a Soviet nuclear-powered submarine] to India.43

Admiral McKee’s testimony about Japan and Pakistan was given in connection with a project that Canada initiated in 1987 to acquire a force of 10 to 12 UK- or French-made SSNs. A choice by Canada to select the UK SSN design (the Trafalgar-class design) would have involved the transfer to Canada of naval nuclear propulsion technology in the Trafalgar-class design that was derived from the naval nuclear propulsion technology that the United States provided to the UK beginning in 1958, which would have raised a question of U.S. approval for a potential sale of UK-made SSNs to Canada. The issue was discussed in a 1988 CRS report.44 Canada canceled its SSN project in 1989, mooting the potential question of whether to share with Canada naval nuclear propulsion technology in the Trafalgar-class design that was derived from the naval nuclear propulsion technology that the United States provided to the UK beginning in 1958. For 1987-1988 letters and statements from Members of Congress regarding the Canadian SSN project, see Appendix E.

[Footnotes]
39 Transcript of presentation.
40 Richard H. Ullman, “The Covert French Connection,” Foreign Policy, Summer 1989 (No. 75): 16-17, accessed at 
https://www.jstor.org/stable/1148862
41 Admiral McKee’s testimony at this point is referring to a proposal at the time, which he was asked to comment on, to sell to Japan the U.S. Navy’s surface ship Aegis weapon system, which included the SPY-1 phased-array radar. The system was eventually sold to Japan and is now used on eight Japanese destroyers. The system was also sold to South Korea, Australia, Spain, and Norway for use on ships in the navies of those countries. For more on the Aegis system, (continued...) Navy Virginia-Class Submarine Program and AUKUS Submarine Proposal Congressional Research Service 18 say[,] “If you want to get into the nuclear submarine business, go ahead and do it. You don’t need our help.”
42 Regarding Pakistan, Admiral McKee testified in March 1988: “We have a letter from the Pakistanis who want one [i.e., a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine] because the Soviets gave [sic: leased] one [i.e., a Soviet nuclear-powered submarine] to India.
43 Admiral McKee’s testimony about Japan and Pakistan was given in connection with a project that Canada initiated in 1987 to acquire a force of 10 to 12 UK- or French-made SSNs. A choice by Canada to select the UK SSN design (the Trafalgar-class design) would have involved the transfer to Canada of naval nuclear propulsion technology in the Trafalgar-class design that was derived from the naval nuclear propulsion technology that the United States provided to the UK beginning in 1958, which would have raised a question of U.S. approval for a potential sale of UK-made SSNs to Canada. The issue was discussed in a 1988 CRS report.
44 Canada canceled its SSN project in 1989, mooting the potential question of whether to share with Canada naval nuclear propulsion technology in the Trafalgar-class design that was derived from the naval nuclear propulsion technology that the United States provided to the UK beginning in 1958. For 1987-1988 letters and statements from Members of Congress regarding the Canadian SSN project, see Appendix E."