Australians to train on British nuclear submarines for the first time

LONDON (Reuters) – Australian naval officers will be allowed to train inside British submarines for the first time as they prepare for the arrival of nuclear-powered submarines as part of a new security partnership with Britain and the United States.

The alliance, launched last September, prompted Australia to cancel a contract for a conventional French submarine in favour of nuclear submarines supported by the United States and Britain, damaging relations with French President Emmanuel Macron.   

The training plan was announced as Britain’s defence minister Ben Wallace hosted his Australian counterpart Richard Marles, who was on his first visit to the United Kingdom since Australia’s new government took office in May.

“Today is a significant milestone in the UK and Australia’s preparation to confront growing threats to the liberal democratic order, especially in the Indo Pacific,” Wallace said.

“Not only have we progressed our defence planning but Minister Marles participated in the commissioning of our latest attack submarine, on which Royal Australian Navy submariners will be embarked as we develop our shared capabilities in the years ahead.”

HMS Anson, the fifth of seven Astute class submarines, was commissioned into the Royal Navy at manufacturer BAE Systems’ site in Barrow-in-Furness, northern England, on Wednesday.

BAE Systems is also building the Dreadnought class of submarine, that will replace the Vanguard that carries Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent, with the first due to enter service in the early 2030s, the company said.

It has started early work on the next generations of submarines that will eventually succeed the Astute class, referred to as SSN-Replacement (SSNR).

Australia is yet to choose a U.S. or UK design for its nuclear-powered submarines.

The chief of the Royal Australian Navy’s nuclear-powered submarine taskforce, Jonathan Mead, told the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s “The Strategist” in May that the Astute class and the U.S Virginia class were in the mix, along with the SSNR and the American SSNX.

Australia will become the seventh nation to operate nuclear-powered submarines after the United States, Britain, France, China, India and Russia.

Australia is not obtaining or fielding nuclear weapons but using nuclear propulsion systems for the vessels because they are harder to detect than conventionally-powered submarines.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Paul Sandle; editing by William James)

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