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Nuclear-powered submarine pact driving evolution of Australia’s defense education

Nuclear-powered submarine pact driving evolution of Australia’s defense education

Tom Abke

Defense education in Australia must rise to the challenges presented by an evolving environment, including the recent trilateral security pact among Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, known as AUKUS, which will introduce nuclear-powered submarines into Australia’s arsenal, military officials and analysts said. Courses to prepare the country’s defense personnel to deal with a range of technologies will be coupled with continued defense education for service members of foreign militaries.

“The most significant new training priority for the ADF [Australian Defence Force] will be to gain proficiency in operating and maintaining nuclear-powered submarines and all the technology that supports operations by nuclear submarines,” Carlyle Thayer, former director for regional security studies at the Australian Command and Staff College, told FORUM.

A spokeswoman for Australia’s Department of Defence agreed, telling FORUM that over the next 18 months, the AUKUS partners will examine the full suite of requirements that underpin “nuclear stewardship” through the pact. Focus areas are expected to include: safety, design, construction, operation, maintenance, disposal, regulation, training, environmental protection, installations and infrastructure, industrial base capacity, workforce and force structure.

Thayer estimated that as many as 2,300 new “submariners” will need to be recruited and trained.

Cyber, artificial intelligence and quantum computing are also priorities for AUKUS, along with Australia’s plan to obtain ballistic missiles, he said. ADF personnel will need training to operate and maintain such systems under development.

“Australia’s existing military training institutions will have to evolve and adapt at a rapid pace to absorb and operate a range of new platforms and weapon systems,” Thayer said.

ADF has structured its funding to meet these new challenges, the Defence Department spokeswoman said, with total defense spending expected to rise from U.S. $31.7 billion in 2020-21 to U.S. $55.5 billion by 2029-30. “Funding for defense education and skills acquisition is a component of this overall workforce budget and is estimated to increase proportionately to the total workforce funding over the decade,” she said.

The Defence Department collaborates with regional and global partners to promote shared interests in a “peaceful, resilient and inclusive Indo-Pacific,” she said.

Participants in senior- and mid-level courses at the Australian War College have hailed from Japan, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, South Korea and the South Pacific, among other places, according to Thayer, with 1,590 foreign defense personnel enrolled in 2019-20. Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper set a goal of doubling the number of international defense personnel trained in Australia within 15 years, he said

“Probably the most notable change will involve a steady increase in senior officers from the United States, United Kingdom and Europe attending the senior course at the Australian War College,” he said, adding that those nations are expanding their defense presence in the Indo-Pacific.

The Australian War College is the product of a 2019 merger between the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies, which offered senior-level training, and the Command and Staff College, which provided mid-level courses, Thayer said.

The War College is part of the Australian Defence College, along with the Australian Defence Force Training Centre and the Australian Defence Force Academy, which works in cooperation with the University of New South Wales. (Pictured: Military personnel attend a lecture at the Australian Defence College in 2019.)


Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.