Sacre Bleu: Macron warns against AUKUS Nuclear powered subs

French President Emmanuel Macron has declared that Australia’s desire to acquire nuclear powered submarines risks provoking a “nuclear confrontation” with China and degrades Australia’s sovereign capability.  Emmanuel Macron’s comments have about the same credibility as the views of a Ford car salesman asked to comment on the benefits of buying a Holden. 

The proposed Australian acquisition of at least 8 nuclear powered submarines (SSNs) under the AUKUS agreement struck by the Coalition Government in September 2021, will provide for nuclear propulsion.  They will not be armed with nuclear weapons.  To suggest that this capability would somehow provoke “nuclear confrontation” has no substance.   

A fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, whether they end up being the UK Astute Class, the US Virginia Class or God help us, a first of type hybrid, will provide the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) with a capability that it does not currently have.  Nor do many other countries, with the exception of the US, UK, Russia, China, India, Brazil oh and of course the French.   

The French have 300 nuclear warheads and four Triomphant-class nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).   Each French submarine can carry a set of sixteen M51 S1 ballistic missiles.  At the risk of repeating myself, the Australian nuclear-powered submarines, will NOT be nuclear armed. 

By comparison, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) have 80 submarines, including four SSBNs and 6 SSNs.  With many more reportedly being planned and built. 

A nuclear-powered submarine will provide the RAN with a much greater range, capability and therefore deterrence than a conventionally powered diesel submarine like its current six Collins Class boats.  A conventionally powered submarine requires the crew to regularly almost surface the boat and “snort” using its diesel engines to charge its batteries.  The process of “snorting” leaves the boat and its crew at its most vulnerable because it is more susceptible to detection.  A nuclear-powered submarine on the other hand can remain submerged at sea for as long as it can feed its crew.  Whilst not ideal for the crew, that could be for up to 6 months at a time.  Nuclear powered submarines are many-times speedier than conventionally powered ones, enabling them to get into and out of a fight, fast. 

The AUKUS deal struck between Australia, the UK and the US will see the submarines being built in Australia, ensuring sovereign capability. 

Yes, there is much work to be done on developing our workforce and technology, but the AUKUS arrangement enables the transfer of that same nuclear propulsion technology that has until now only been shared between the UK and the US.  This is a nation building exercise.  Far from provoking war, it will serve to deter it.  The finer details of the AUKUS submarine deal are due to be released in a report eagerly anticipated to be released in March 2023. 

The inescapable fact is that the $90 billion French Attack Class Submarines that were to be built for the RAN would not have been up to task in the current threat environment.  Both the Coalition and Labor agree on this point.  The fact that this has upset the French, who remain an important Pacific ally, is as regrettable as it is understandable.   


Andrew Wallace is the Federal Member for Fisher and Coalition Deputy Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee and Deputy Chair of the Defence Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing Committee of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee of the Australian Parliament.