AUKUS under Pressure: The Capacity Constraints that put a Dampener on Delivery

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On 15 September 2021, the governments of Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom announced the formation of AUKUS – a new security pact designed to “deepen diplomatic, security, and defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region”. Although the agreement includes cooperation across a range of advanced capabilities such as hypersonics and quantum technologies, the commitment to provide Australia with at least eight nuclear-propelled, conventionally-armed submarines has become the defining feature of the partnership. However, the delivery of these submarines will pose considerable challenges. Many commentators have pointed to the risk of alienating other states through the recalibration of international security ties, already demonstrated in spectacular fashion by the diplomatic fall-out with France when Australia reneged on a diesel-powered submarines deal. Others have asked questions about the potential for nuclear proliferation in the Indo-Pacific, with the submarines expected to be fuelled by highly enriched uranium (HEU). Yet the hardest hurdles to overcome may be far less esoteric. They centre on the nuts and bolts of the submarine building itself, with all three partner countries facing very real constraints on the human, engineering and technological capacity required. More will be known in March 2023 when Australia’s AUKUS submarine taskforce is expected to deliver its recommendations on shipbuilding location, design and workforce needs, but even then the anticipated gaps in capacity building will be difficult to reconcile. Ahead of the March announcement, this essay seeks to evaluate the key capacity-related construction challenges and provide insights on how this will impact the delivery aspect of AUKUS.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationSecurity and Defence PLuS Collected Essays
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2023


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