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Monash Expert: Australia to acquire nuclear submarine fleet

A Monash University expert is available to discuss Australia, the UK and the US’ new security partnership AUKUS, which will build nuclear submarines for Australia’s fleet.

Associate Professor Maria Rost Rublee, Associate Professor Politics and International Relations (Faculty of Arts)

Contact: +61 449 652 135 or 

  • Why this deal is significant and what questions we should be asking about it

The following can be attributed to Associate Professor Rost Rublee:

“Australia has a lot of defence needs but not a very large defence budget. How expensive will nuclear-powered submarines be, and how will that affect the rest of Australia's defence budget?

“Whilst there is a good feeling that comes with being included, with being on par with the UK when it comes to US relations, and trusted with sensitive nuclear technology, Australia needs to ask questions about what is best for our many defence needs and our limited budget.

“We need to understand how these will be made. In the US it costs about $US2-3 billion to build a submarine. And that’s with the systems already in place. We have no nuclear industry in Australia and nuclear-powered submarines involve very different technology to the conventional diesel-electric submarines, which were part of the deal with the French.

“Also, to achieve sea control, we will need more than 12 submarines. We need to be asking how will we afford this? And how long will these take to build?

“We also need to query whether nuclear-powered submarines are the best option for our defence long-term. Yes, they can stay submerged in the ocean for long periods but they are noisier, and with drone technology improving, they could be spotted. 

“Mr Morrison has made it clear that the deal does not extend to nuclear weapons and will continue to meet our nuclear non-proliferation obligations but many in our region - and indeed the world - will be fearful. The Prime Minister needs to outline who will be supplying the highly enriched uranium (HEU) for Australia's nuclear submarines. While Australia has the technical ability to enrich uranium, it will take time to build it - and it would cast significant concerns from the region and the world about Australia's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. HEU can be used in nuclear weapons as well as nuclear submarines.

“Lastly, we should be asking about UK basing rights. Within the UK, there is concern that if a second Scottish referendum on independence is won, England suddenly has no base for its nuclear submarines. Would Australia allow the UK to base its nuclear submarines here instead?  If so, what are the strategic implications, as well as implications for Australia's many legal commitments to nuclear non-proliferation.

“If we care about Australian defence, we need to think carefully - and ask many questions - about this proposed cooperation with the United States on nuclear submarines.”

For any other topics on which you may be seeking expert comment, please contact the Monash University Media team on +61 3 9903 4840 or