Australia nuclear sub fleet highly unlikely to be ready by 2030

A Rivercat ferry passes the Royal Australian Navy's Collins-class submarine HMAS Waller in Sydney Harbour, on May 4, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG) - Australia's Defence Minister Richard Marles said it was "optimistic in the extreme" that any of the country's new fleet of nuclear submarines would be ready by 2030, warning it could leave Australia with a capability gap of more than a decade.

Australia signed a deal with the US and the UK in September 2021, known as the Aukus agreement, which among a range of security and technology measures would also help Australia build and operate its own fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. However no final delivery date was announced.

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday (June 29), Mr Marles said the government was still determining the best route to obtaining the submarines but at the present rate of delivery, a date in the 2040s was far more likely.

"We will be looking at every option available to try and bring that time forward. I think bringing it forward to eight years from now would be extremely optimistic," he said.

In the meantime, in an attempt to close the capability gap between Australia's current ageing submarine fleet and the future nuclear vessels, Mr Marles said that "all possibilities are on the table".

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who was the defence minister under the previous government, claimed in early June he was planning to fast-track Australia's acquisition of nuclear submarines to allow the purchase of two US-built vessels by 2030.

The news of the Aukus agreement in September 2021 was met with trepidation among some of Australia's Indo-Pacific neighbours, who were concerned it could lead to an arms race in the region.

Speaking opposite Australia's top diplomat Penny Wong in Malaysia on Tuesday, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said he had reiterated Putrajaya's concerns to Ms Wong during their bilateral meeting.

"We had a very candid discussion on Aukus just now and I thank the Foreign Minister for explaining the current government's position. And Malaysia's position remains the same and this I have mentioned to the Foreign Minister," Mr Saifuddin said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.