SOURCE: KR RAMESH KUMAR / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
In the context of the AUKUS agreement, Royal Australian Navy will get its hands on a nuclear-powered submarine likely to be based on the British Astute-class attack submarine that is universally known as the SSN. Royal Navy (RN) will get its last submarine of the Astute-class SSN by 2026 and it is most likely from 2024 transfer of technology and training to local Australian shipyard workers will already have commenced so that by 2030 they get their first sub.
Astute-class SSN meant for Royal Australian Navy will get a US combat management system, Mk48 torpedo, Tomahawks, and other weapons. A nuclear reactor will be manufactured by Rolls-Royce in its UK facility that will be later transferred and installed on the first submarine in Australia. While the timeline might seem tight but considering that most of the technology is already developed and available since the new submarine is based on the existing Astute class of SSN it is very much doable.
While Australia is acquiring SSN due to the Chinese intention to dominate the Indian Ocean in near future with its Navy and its Naval base around this region, It also becomes more urgent for the Indian Navy to also acquire SSN for its power projection in the region. India already has contracted old friend Russia to take on a 10-year lease for its two Akula II Class nuclear submarines which it will induct by 2026-28 after Chakra II was abruptly sent back to Russia 10 months before its lease was to expire.
Just two years back, the Indian Navy got in-principal approval for the development of Six new next-generation SSNs and the program is to be executed under PMO at National mode to maintain secrecy and also so that funds provided will not come out of the budget of the Navy. While it is still not clear if the Navy will go for a clean slate design with a new nuclear reactor or settles for an S4 class SSBM ( ballistic missile submarine) submarine is converted into SSN while drawing back power from the same reactor that was used for Arihant and S4 class SSBM is yet to be seen.
The current 83MW pressurized water reactor might initially be used for the first-gen indigenous SSN program but it won’t be good enough for the second-gen indigenous SSN program that obviously will require a 190MW pressurized water reactor as the Navy always wanted for its third Gen S5 Class SSBM program. Russia has acted as an external consultant for the development of this nuclear reactor for the Indian nuclear submarine program but it had to be done under limitations set by the western countries so that it is not accused that it violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA ) is already hearing a complaint filed by China on this matter relating to the AUKUS deal and if IAEA fails to stop the AUKUS deal then India should use this as precedent and procure Russian and French dual-use submarine technology for the development of its SSN and SSBM programs. The AUKUS SSN program can be used as justification for nuclear weapons countries like India to gain access to HEU and other nuclear reactor technology to be used in nuclear submarine programs.
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