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AUKUS deal on nuclear submarine Project

  • Published
    15th Mar, 2023
Context

The US, UK and Australia have unveiled details of their plan to create a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, aimed at countering China's influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Background:
  • More than a year after the AUKUS pact was signed on September 2021, the US, UK, and Australia have finally revealed details of their plan to build a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for Australia. 
  • In June 2022, US lawmakers introduced a bill called the ‘Australia-US Submarine Officer Pipeline Act’ to train Royal Australian Navy officers in the operation of nuclear submarines.

AUKUS:

  • Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. (AUKUS) have come together to establish a new trilateral security partnership for the Indo-Pacific called the AUKUS.
  • Aim: The historic grouping will advance strategic interests, uphold the international rules-based order, along with generating hundreds of high-skilled jobs.
  • Under the first major initiative of AUKUS, Australia would build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines with the help of the US and the UK, a capability aimed at promoting stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

About the agreement:

    • Under the AUKUS agreement, which is aimed at preserving a “free and open” Indo Pacific, Australia will buy three American nuclear submarines.
  • It includes a commitment to cooperate on building artificial intelligence capabilities, hypersonic weapons and other advanced technologies.
  • Australia and Britain will also start building a new submarine model with US technology and support, with the UK expected to deliver its first home-built nuclear submarine by the late 2030s. 

Key features:

  • The British work to replace their Astute-class submarines will be “leveraged” to continue design and development work on a brand-new submarine known as ‘the SSN-AUKUS’.
  • Submarine, which will eventually be operated by the UK and Australia employing US combat systems, will be referred to as the ‘AUKUS class’.
  • Funding mechanism: Australia will also provide $3 billion over the next four years to production lines in the US and the UK as part of its financial commitment, with the US receiving the majority of the funding for improvement.

What is a nuclear-powered submarine?

  • A nuclear-powered submarine is powered by a nuclear reactor.
  • But it is not a nuclear weapon.
  • Every nuclear-powered submarine draws from its own miniature nuclear reactor on board, which is typically fuelled with uranium.
  • For such a reactor to work, uranium has to be ‘enriched’ to contain 50 per cent of a key isotope, uranium-235.
  • Natural uranium consists of approximately 99.3 per cent of the isotope uranium-238 and only 0.7 per cent of uranium-235.
  • The process of enrichment can be carried out through gaseous diffusion, gas centrifuges or laser isotope separation.
  • Only six nations own and operate these submarines currently: China, France, India, Russia, the UK and the US.

Types of nuclear-powered submarines:

  • Nuclear-powered submarines can be divided into three broad categories:
    • the nuclear-powered fast-attack submarines or SSNs
    • the nuclear-powered ballistic submarines or SSBNs
    • the nuclear-powered cruise missile submarines or SSGNs

SSNs are the oldest type of nuclear-powered submarines and the first of these, the American-made Nautilus, was deployed in 1954 by the US.

India and the nuclear submarine industry:

  • The Navy currently has 15 conventional submarines-
  • eight Russian Kilo class ones
  • four German HDWs
  • Three Scorpenes and nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) INS Arihant.
  • Second indigenous SSBN Arighat, now in advanced stages of sea trials, is expected to be commissioned next year along with indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant, which recently began sea trials, the two officials remarked.
  • Akula class SSN Chakra, on a decade-long lease from Russia, has been returned recently, slightly ahead of schedule.
  • India has already signed a deal for the lease of another such submarine and the project is underway.
  • Given the delays, India is also considering leasing one more Akula class SSN.
  • It does not have a nuclear-powered conventional attack submarine.
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