Fresh AUKUS concerns as submarine headaches emerge in United States over dry dock closures
The US Navy has abruptly suspended submarine repairs at four West Coast drydocks, raising fresh concerns about the AUKUS deal just weeks before Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States announce an “optimal path” for Australia to nuclear- to develop powered submarines.
Key Points: Submarine repair work at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and the Trident Refit Facility in Washington has been suspended. The U.S. Navy has not said what the “potential issues” are, what work is needed to fix them, or how long it will take. An announcement about the future plans of the AUKUS agreement will be made in March
The Navy announced over the weekend that it would “temporarily suspend” operations at three docks at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard near Seattle, Washington, as well as at a fourth dock at the nearby Trident Refit Facility, citing the need to strengthen them to cope with potential future earthquakes.
“The recent seismic assessment, conducted as part of the Navy’s Long-Range Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program (SIOP), identified potential issues related to the remote possibility of a large-scale earthquake occurring concurrently with submarine maintenance availability,” reads the statement. .
“With this new information, the Navy is taking additional measures to further ensure the safety of the yard workforce, sailors, the local public, the environment and the submarines.”
The U.S. Navy statement does not explain exactly what the “potential issues” are, what work is needed to fix them or the likely cost.
Vice Admiral Bill Galinis, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, said the Navy would “immediately begin implementing these mitigations and safely return our dry docks to full capacity as soon as possible,” but did not say how long operations could be suspended not.
The Navy emphasized that the decision “does not affect the nation’s strategic deterrence capability or the ability of the Navy to continue its overall mission.”
But the shutdown will make it increasingly difficult for the U.S. Navy to locate, maintain and then decommission nuclear-powered submarines, and could raise renewed concerns about the constraints the U.S. industrial base is grappling with ahead of the AUKUS announcement in March.
The United States is already struggling to meet its own navy’s requirements to build two new nuclear-powered submarines each year, while more than one in three submarines in its existing fleet are currently in maintenance or awaiting maintenance.
While the three AUKUS countries have not yet detailed how they will develop nuclear-powered submarines for Australia, there is speculation that the United States may sell or transfer or sell Virginia-class submarines to Australia to help it close the “capability gap bridge” ” which will be created when the current fleet of eight conventionally powered Collins-class submarines is gradually retired.
Late last year, two high-profile U.S. senators wrote to President Joe Biden warning that taking that step could push the U.S. industrial base to “breaking point” — drawing a strong response from a bipartisan Washington legislature that pulled their weight. threw behind Australia and AUKUS.
Australia currently has eight conventionally powered Collins-class submarines. (Provided: Department of Defence)
In August last year, a senior US Navy officer also said that building extra submarines could put an unsustainable burden on US shipyards.
And in recent days, a Congressional watchdog report also highlighted problems with the Navy’s future Columbia-class submarine program, finding it “lacks essential schedule insight” amid construction challenges.
The latest development comes as Foreign Secretary Penny Wong and Defense Secretary Richard Marles prepare to meet their British counterparts in the UK for annual talks that are likely to focus heavily on the AUKUS treaty and the impending nuclear submarine announcement .
After that, Mr Marles will go to the United States to meet Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for high-level discussions ahead of the March joint announcement.
Former senator and submariner Rex Patrick told the ABC that the US Navy’s decision to suspend operations at the West Coast dry docks highlighted the stresses facing the US system and the huge risks inherent in Australia’s ambitious attempt to build nuclear-powered submarines.
“The U.S. Navy has made no secret of the fact that its submarine-building capability does not meet the U.S. Navy’s requirement. This news only makes things worse,” he said.
“No matter how much US Congressmen and Australian MPs speak, their words will not change the increasing risks building in the US and Australian submarine shipyards.”