A White House fact sheet released as part of publicity for Australia’s decision to spend almost $400 billion on nuclear submarines is false. It claims, “For over 60 years, the UK and the US have operated more than 500 naval nuclear reactors . . . without incident or adverse effect on human health or the quality of the environment.” In fact, as discussed below, two US nuclear submarines sunk during that period with the loss of all lives on board—a loss most people would consider to have had a “serious effect on human health”.
It’s difficult to understand how no one in the White House was able to correct such a fundamental error. Apparently, no one in the 350 Australian personnel studying the acquisition of nuclear submarines spoke up. Nor did the head of the Office of National Intelligence Andrew Shearer who made the initial approach to the White House for Australia to be given the opportunity to buy nuclear submarines. He has no excuse for not knowing. Moreover, the lobbying White House to supply nuclear submarines is not really a job for an intelligence official. It should be done by a senior defence or diplomatic official.
The USS Thresher sank in 1963 with the loss of all 129 lives 350 km off Cape Cod. Some reports claim it had collided with a Soviet submarine as part of an operation to trail it. The idea was for the US sub to be in place to try sink the Soviet boat shortly before nuclear war broke out. Navy inquiries claimed the Thresher had sunk while practising deep dive operations. Sometimes these inquiries are cover-ups. Whether they were in this case is not known.
The existence of these dangerous trailing operations was subsequently confirmed by a Secretary of the Navy The operations continue against Russian and Chinese submarines, and vice versa, where feasible.
The USS Scorpion sunk in 1968 400 km from the Azores with the loss of all 99 crew. According to plausible accounts, it was sent in 1966 into a Soviet inland sea to gather intelligence. The National Interest reported that in February 1968, Scorpion transited to a naval base in Rota, Spain. On May 16, it left Rota, tasked with finding out the position of Soviet ships reported near the Azores islands. On May 21, the Scorpion’s captain transmitted that he had located a Soviet submarine at a depth of 110 metres and was “to begin surveillance of the Soviets.”
This was the last message received from the Scorpion. The National Interest said the search area was narrowed based on an ominous recording obtained by a Navy listening station in the Canaries. This captured fifteen acoustic events over 190 seconds that seemed correspond to an apparent underwater explosion or implosion. The wreck was found four months later. No satisfactory answer to what happened is available.
What is clear is that the assurance that no US submarines had suffered adverse incidents for over 60 years is false. Anthony Albanese should make it plain whether he knew about this and why not.
His government continues to claim that nuclear submarines are harder to detect than conventional ones. This is not true of advanced conventional submarines with batteries that use a mix of chemicals that can’t catch fire. Unlike Australia’s outdated Collins class submarines, these can operate silently on batteries for extended periods. Air Independent Propulsion using hydrogen fuel cells also allows silent operation for much longer than for the Collins class.
The second-hand Virginia class submarines Australia is getting initially from America are noisy, because they have to boil water for a steam engine to drive the submarine through a series of meshing gears. Although ignored in all the gushing commentary about how these submarines are driven by nuclear propulsion, in reality they simply boil the water for an updated version of Puffing Billy which provides the propulsion.
There are other ways in which the Virginia class is able to be detected. It has to expel hot water outside the hull where infrared sensors can detect the location of the submarine from space. When nuclear submarines go at full speed –supposedly and advantage – they give off a wake that can be detected easily. The Virginia class also has a terrible reputation for poor maintenance – based on their record, only two submarines out of eight will be operationally available on average.
Later, Australia is due to buy and build and build eight new submarines to joint new Australia, UK, US design – a recipe for a disaster. They first won’t be ready until 2050 at the earliest.
Speaking in San Diego at the unveiling of the new submarine proposals, Albanese said Australia, the UK and the US “are bound, above all, in our belief in a world where every nation is respected – and inherent dignitary of any of every individual upheld”. This is vomit making rubbish and he must know it. These three aggressors did not uphold Iraq’s sovereignty when they invaded the country in 2003 on the basis of concocted intelligence, soon exposed as phoney. The trio did not uphold the inherent dignity of every individual the invaders killed. Nor the dignity of the 500,000 children who starved death due to US-led sanctions before the invasion.
Australia and the US did not uphold the dignity of those they killed in the illegal invasion of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The US dropped a planeload of bombs on tiny Laos every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. There was no hint in Vietnam of upholding human dignity when napalming children, the deliberate crop destruction to induce starvation, the carpet bombing, the use of dioxide, a persistent poison, that still causes mothers to give birth to agonisingly deformed children. Albanese was a strong opponent of Australia’s part of the Vietnam war. He must remember some of the reasons for his stand, which make a mockery of what he had to say at the unveiling of the nuclear submarines for Australia.
Surely some in the Labor Party can now stand up and condemn how he is trashing the moral core of his party!