Former British defense chiefs have warned that the AUKUS submarine deal could be a disaster, lamenting the “dismal” performance of BAE Systems.
The deal between Australia, Britain and the United States to develop a generation of nuclear-powered submarines would be “a disaster” if it went wrong, former UK defense chiefs said on Friday.
Former top brass highlighted the recent “dismal” performance of defense giant BAE Systems, which will be a central player in British shipbuilding at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.
Ministers were told that industrial inefficiency in the program “should be dealt with swiftly and ruthlessly.”
Meanwhile, Midnight Oil leader and former Labor cabinet minister Peter Garrett has also gotten into the backlash, backing AUKUS’s rebuke of former Prime Minister Paul Keating.
“This deal sucks, with massive cost, loss of independence, weakening of nuclear safeguards and more,” he tweeted Thursday night.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese outlined the latest leg of the AUKUS partnership after Monday’s summit in San Diego.
Under the deal aimed at countering China’s growing military assertiveness in the Pacific, Australia will get its first nuclear-powered submarines.
It will also provide the Royal Navy with replacements for its seven Astute submarines, potentially doubling the size of its attack ship fleet.
The ships will not have nuclear weapons.
Caution sounded in the British parliament
“The AUKUS program, if executed well, will be very good news for this country. If executed poorly, it could be a disaster,” Lord Stirrup, the former chief of Britain’s armed forces, said in Westminster.
The independent MP argued that BAE Systems’ performance in recent years had been “quite dismal”.
“Of course, it is not for the government to run private companies, but industrial performance in this program will be of strategic importance to this country,” he said.
“Could I ask the minister what long-term mechanisms and processes are in place to monitor and audit industry performance and what influence they will have on the industries in question?
“Industrial underperformance in this program will need to be addressed quickly and ruthlessly. Something that hasn’t happened before.”
Lord Stirrup also stressed the need for a sufficient skills base to deliver the “ambitious” programme.
In response, the British Defense Minister, Baroness Goldie, pointed out that it was a trilateral agreement.
“There is, therefore, a triumvirate interest in ensuring that no one slips, that everyone keeps up,” he said.
Steps were already being taken to boost skills, Baroness Goldie said.
Former navy chief and fellow Labor Lord West of Spithead said: “This is a very brave and bold decision and I am delighted it has been taken because we are in an era where we need it.
“Having said that, there are real problems within our underwater world. BAE Systems’ performance has not been good.”
He stressed the importance of one person being in charge with direct access to the prime minister so that he could “chop off people’s legs if they weren’t doing what they were supposed to do.”
Lord West added: “Because if it goes wrong, my God, it’s going to be a disaster.”
Lady Goldie said: “A very strong evaluation of this program will need to be maintained.
“With three eyes focused on what we’re trying to deliver, then there’s almost a third stage to protecting that robust contract surveillance.”
Former Labor defense secretary Lord Reid of Cardowan lobbied the government over the absence of costs.
“What is the realm of possibility in which this decision was made? It cannot be taken without ministers having some idea of how much it is going to cost,” he said.
Lady Goldie said: “I am a little disappointed by Lord Reid’s rather dejected behaviour.”
While unable to give “a precise figure” arguing that it would depend on a number of factors, he told colleagues: “I think this has been universally regarded as one of the most important and exciting announcements for UK defense and for our naval capacity than seen in decades.
“This is a very important development.
“I have no doubt that the government has made the right decision in proceeding with this.”