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Can Australia Be Key to Containing China's Naval Pacific Power?

a submarine at a dock

A U.S. Navy Virginia-class submarine (TONY MCDONOUGH/AFP via Getty Images)

Robert Zapesochny By Wednesday, 28 February 2024 06:08 PM EST Current | Bio | Archive

Since 2021, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have been working together in a trilateral partnership called AUKUS. In December, Congress authorized a sale of three Virginia-class submarines to Australia.

In addition to the Virginia-class submarines, the United Kingdom and Australia will develop a next-generation attack submarine called SSN-AUKUS to replace their current attack submarines. The SSN-AUKUS will begin to replace Britain's Astute class submarines and Australia's Collins-class submarines by the end of the 2030s. 

For decades, the United States and Australia have maintained a joint satellite surveillance base at Pine Gap in the Australian Outback. Since 2011, Australian-American relations have improved to include larger deployments of American military personnel in Australia. 

In 2011, President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that 200 to 250 U.S. Marines would be stationed for six months a year to enhance bilateral relations beginning in 2012. From March to October 2023, as many as 2,500 Marines trained alongside Australian forces for their 12th annual rotation.

These Marines were stationed at the Royal Australian Air Force base in Darwin. 

While the United States and Australia have been allies since 1951, the United States has always been reluctant to share its submarine technology with its allies. Australia is only the second country, after the United Kingdom, to work with the United States on submarines. 

In 1958, the United Kingdom signed a mutual defense agreement with the United States. The U.K. became the first country to work with the United States on nuclear naval propulsion technology and other areas vital to our national defense.

The U.S. Navy is still the most powerful navy in the world. The problem is that our naval power stretched throughout the world. 

We need allies to deter the Chinese in the Indo-Pacific region. As China's naval power grows, the United States has been working with Japan, India, and Australia to form the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD).

Improving Australia's Navy will strengthen our hand in the Pacific. In 2019, the combined military spending of the United States ($732 billion), India ($71.1 billion), Japan ($47.6 billion), and Australia ($25.9 billion) dwarfed China ($261 billion).

In 2021, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wrote in Foreign Affairs: "China has considerable reason to worry about such developments and what they could mean for its regional and global prospects. On the security front, for example, the Quad changes Beijing's thinking about various scenarios in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea and, to a lesser degree, in the East China Sea, as China's sense of the likelihood of Australian, Indian, or Japanese military involvement in any conflict involving the United States grows."

The United States needs new partners to deter a rising China. In the meantime, the United States must also improve its submarine forces.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), America's surface ships are vulnerable to China's anti-ship missiles. In several war game scenarios, our best chance to defeat a Chinese invasion force came from our attack submarines. 

In fiscal year 2022, the United States had three classes of attack submarines. The U.S. Navy had 26 Los Angeles-class submarines, three Seawolf-class submarines, and 21 Virginia-class submarines.

With 50 attack submarines, the Navy is well short of its 2016 stated goal of 355 total ships, including 66 attack submarines. The problem is that we have only two shipyards that can build nuclear submarines.

Since 1993, the number of public shipyards for the U.S. Navy has fallen from eight to four shipyards. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro believes we need to add two additional public shipyards for the Navy.  

In March, our military estimated that we would not be able build two 2 Virginia-class submarines per year until 2028. 

The lack of sufficient shipyard capacity also means longer delays in repairing our current submarines. The percentage of our attack submarines undergoing repairs, or waiting for maintenance, increased from 22% in fiscal year 2008 to 33% in fiscal year 2022. 

Further delays in repairs are partially due to scandal and errors. From 1985 to 2017, metallurgist Elaine Marie Thomas falsified strength tests on the steel of 30 American submarines. 

In 2016, it was reported that three Virginia-class submarines required further maintenance due to a defective elbow pipe.

Since World War II, America's naval dominance has been crucial to maintaining our freedom. We owe our current sailors, as well as our Navy veterans, a great debt for their service to our country. 

On a personal note, last month my sister-in-law's father, Walter Krueger, passed away. He served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War aboard the USS Kitty Hawk.

Robert Zapesochny is a researcher and writer whose work focuses on foreign affairs, national security and presidential history. He has been published in numerous outlets, including The American Spectator, the Washington Times, and The American Conservative. When he's not writing, Robert works for a medical research company in New York. Read Robert Zapesochny's Reports — More Here.

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Since 2021, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have been working together in a trilateral partnership called AUKUS. In December, Congress authorized a sale of three Virginia-class submarines to Australia.
us, australia, uk, china
Wednesday, 28 February 2024 06:08 PM
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