The US Navy has abruptly suspended repair of submarines on the four West Coast dry docks, which has raised new concerns about the AUKUS accord just a few weeks prior to Australia and Australia, United Kingdom and the United States declare an “optimal path” to allow Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines.
- Repairs to submarines at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard as well as the Trident Refit Facility in Washington are suspended.
- The US Navy has not said what the “potential problems” are and what the work required to correct them, or the length of time it will take.
- A statement on the future direction in the AUKUS deal will be announced in March.
The Navy has announced that it will “temporarily temporarily suspend” activities at the three docks in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard close to Seattle in Washington state. Washington and on a fourth dock in the close Trident Refit Facility, citing the necessity of strengthening the docks to withstand future earthquakes.
“The recent seismic evaluation, conducted in the navy’s longer-range Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program (SIOP) has identified potential problems related to the remote possibility of a massive earthquake taking place at the same time as a availability for maintenance,” the statement said.
“With this information”, the Navy is taking further steps to ensure the safety of the employees of the shipyard Sailors, the community, the environment, as well as the submarines.”
It is unclear what the US Navy statement does not define exactly what the “potential problems” are, the work that will be required to address these issues, or the expected costs.
Vice Admiral Bill Galinis, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, stated that the Navy will “begin applying these mitigations as soon as possible and ensure that we restore our dry docks back fully operational as soon as is possible” however he didn’t specify what time the operations would be put on hold for.
Two high-profile US Senators addressed two prominent US Senators wrote to President Joe Biden warning that taking this decision could cause an US manufacturing base towards “breaking point” and provoking a ferocious response from unanimity of Washington lawmakers who put their all-in support of Australia in the form of AUKUS.
In August, an experienced US Navy officer also said that the construction of more submarines could be a burden that is excessive load for American shipyards.
In recent days, a report by the Congressional watchdog has also pointed out issues with the Navy’s upcoming Columbia-class submarines, stating that it “lacks crucial information about schedules” in the face of construction issues.
The latest developments occur in the midst of foreign minister Penny Wong and Defence Minister Richard Marles prepare to meet their British counterparts in the UK for their annual talks, which will likely focus primarily on the AUKUS accord and the imminent Nuclear submarines announcement.
Then, Mr. Marles will travel towards his home in the United States to meet with Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin for high level discussions prior to the joint announcement in March.
A former Senator, submariner and senator Rex Patrick told the ABC that the US Navy’s decision to stop operation at West Coast dry docks highlighted the challenges faced by the US system as well as the huge dangers inherent in Australia’s effort to construct nuclear-powered submarines.
“The US Navy have made clear that the submarine capacity isn’t meeting the US Navy’s demands. This latest news only makes the situation more difficult,” he said.
“No regardless of how much talk US Congressmen or Australian MPs may be the words they speak will not change the risk-taking that is taking place within US as well as Australian submarine construction facilities.”
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