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World Australia's French-made submarines would have been valuable in the South China Sea

00:00  18 september  2021
00:00  18 september  2021 Source:   washingtonexaminer.com

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The technicalities of sound, geography, and submarine operations mean that international security interests in the South China Sea would have benefited had Australia bought some submarines from France.

Christopher Pyne, Jean-Yves Le Drian standing next to a man in a suit and tie © Provided by Washington Examiner

France is now deeply upset over Australia's cancellation of a contract to buy tens of billions of dollars worth of submarines from its Naval Group manufacturer. On Friday, France recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra. Instead of the French submarines, Australia will access U.S. nuclear technology and develop a nuclear powered submarine fleet. Whatever the economic considerations, however, Australia's possession of Naval Group's Shortfin Barracuda submarines would have had security value. Again, it's all about the technicalities of sound, geography, and submarine operations.

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Consider that the most likely geographic locale for a U.S.-Australian conflict with China is the South China Sea. That matters because the waters surrounding the PLA-Navy's keystone bases in this area are very shallow. This is especially true in the Gulf of Tonkin waters bounding Hainan island's western coast to the Chinese mainland. Depths here rarely exceed 150 feet, and never more than 300 feet. Much of mainland China's South China Sea coastline is also very shallow. And while the waters immediately surrounding Hainan's Yulin submarine base are deeper, they do not range above 350 feet.

That brings us back to the Shortfin Barracudas that France was set to build for Australia.

Equipped with latest air-independent propulsion systems, those diesel-electric powered boats would have been very quiet. Considering the air, surface, and undersea sensors that China will likely have employed around its naval bases, the French boats would have had an advantage over U.S. Virginia-class nuclear powered submarines. (Incidentally, this utility would also extend to the Strait of Malacca choke point separating Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Were any conflict to extend in duration, the U.S. would likely block Chinese trade flows through the Malacca Strait.) But it is far from inconceivable to think that, in war, bold Australian submarine commanders could have lurked quietly, sinking Chinese submarines and surface warships as they entered and exited port. Instead, in any future conflict, the U.S. and its allies are likely to operate their nuclear attack submarines in deeper waters.

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Top line: What's done is done. But don't believe those who say that this is the best possible choice. It is not. That would have been for Australia (or even the U.S.) to buy a mix of nuclear and diesel-electric submarines.

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Tags: Opinion, Beltway Confidential, China, Australia, Nuclear Submarine, Foreign Policy, National Security, Navy, South China Sea, Xi Jinping, France

Original Author: Tom Rogan

Original Location: Australia's French-made submarines would have been valuable in the South China Sea

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