MP urges more nuclear subs in 'battle for Australia'

Australia will be better protected from potential invasion or stand-off attacks if the government exceeds its target and builds more nuclear submarines, a paper written by a Labor MP argues.

As part of a trilateral partnership with the US and the UK, Australia will acquire three Virginia class vessels and build its own SSN-AUKUS machines so that eight nuclear-powered submarines will be in Australian service by the 2050s.

The plan will cost up to $368 billion.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong after the AUSMIN talks
AUKUS will provide Australia with conventionally armed, nuclear powered submarine capability. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

But a Lowy Institute report authored by federal Labor MP Luke Gosling argues Australia should go further.

"It would make little industrial and strategic sense to have set up an entire Australian production line to build three boats over ten years," he wrote.

"Beyond avoiding a shipbuilding 'valley of death' and locking in economies of scale, the advantage of maintaining a sovereign SSN capability indefinitely cannot be overstated, particularly in wartime, when parts will be at a premium."

Australia should acquire a force of 12 nuclear-powered submarines with six each stationed on the east and west coast for a two-ocean submarine force, Mr Gosling says.

This would allow two boats in each ocean to protect all key northern choke points, doubling Australia's patrol coverage.

"The difference could well be decisive in a battle for Australia," Mr Gosling wrote.

As China's military activity in the Pacific fuels security concerns, submarines will provide a more "favourable balance of power".

"(The submarines) are overwhelmingly in Australia's interest because they strengthen the country's ability to deter war by threatening painful consequences for aggression against Australia, its partners, and its interests," Mr Gosling wrote.

"(They) will give Australia added strategic weight to deter a more powerful adversary by demonstrating the country's capability to target forces that would otherwise outrange its own."

The government's plan will also create tens of thousands of jobs.

Though concerns over the plan's costs, workforce capability, and nuclear waste management linger, a 2024 Lowy Poll found almost two-thirds of Australians are in favour of acquiring nuclear-powered submarines.