This suggestion is similar to LDP policy.
The Australian government and Defense Department have been thrashing around for some time over replacing the rather problematic Collins Class submarines. The discussion at present still revolves around conventional powered craft; Australia still suffers from a Luddite obsession with all things non nuclear.
Former senior Defense official Ross Babbage has called for this option to be put on the table and offers reasons why this is a good idea:
If directly threatened, coerced or attacked, this country needs credible means of deterring and countering even a major power. It needs one or more powerful instruments with a capacity to stop a belligerent country in its tracks. Advanced submarines are one of very few capabilities that can contribute meaningfully to this.It is not known whether the US would be willing to do this deal although Canada is interested in doing the same thing. What is remarkable is that the only political party that has proposed the acquisition of nuclear powered submarines is the pro defense libertarian, Liberal Democratic Party which has had this as a major policy plank for several years. The LDP argues that without the carrier capacity to give air cover to a surface fleet, we would lose such a fleet in the opening volleys of hostilities:
To do this, Australia needs more than just small submarines to serve as crocodiles in the ditch of our immediate approaches. We need vessels that can travel rapidly to East Asia and to the distant reaches of the Indian Ocean to maneuver there with high security for extended periods.
In a crisis, the new boats should not only be able to sink ships and destroy maritime installations but also fire cruise missiles to precisely strike high-value targets well inland. The right submarine force can give Australia this credible deterrence. That is why getting the submarine decision right is vital. …
Option five is to buy or lease Virginia-class submarines from the US. The Virginias are fast and have almost unlimited endurance. They carry sensors with extraordinary performance such that they can routinely see potential opponents well before they themselves can be detected, often at trans-oceanic distances. They have also been designed from scratch to be very flexible and perform a broader range of functions that would deliver Australia strong deterrence power even against a major power.
The Virginia class is in series production, hence the project risks are low. The contract for the 14th Virginia has been signed for a price of $1.2bn, but by the time they are fully fitted out, the sail-away price is $2.5bn. These boats are demonstrating exceptional operational performance and high reliability and would provide class-wide training and upgrade programs. Operating RAN and USN Virginias in close partnership would also take the ANZUS alliance to a new level.
Consistent with similar provisions in the 2009 White Paper, the LDP would concentrate resources into key areas in support of a maritime defence strategy.The Virginia Class is somewhat bigger than the Rubis Class, but comes with the advantage of being the same as is used by our greatest ally. European nations are not really reliable suppliers given their distance, trade barriers, and approaching insolvency. Clearly, the first requirement would to be electing a government with a big enough pair to implement such an initiative.
The LDP believes the focus of our full-time military should be on the three strategic capabilities able to achieve long distance force projection. These comprise a strategic bomber capability, an effective submarine fleet, and a rapid reaction, air-mobile expeditionary force including Special Forces.
Concurrently, the LDP believes that primary responsibility for the defence of Australia’s landmass should be transferred to a part-time force.
To achieve this the LDP supports proceeding with the F35 fighter purchase but would also replace the F-111 fleet with a squadron of B-1B strategic bombers, paid for in part by a reduction in our order of F-35s.
The LDP would replace the current six-boat Collins Class submarine fleet with a greater number of new submarines. Ideally this would be twelve small nuclear submarines (similar to the French Rubis design), but if these are not procurable or affordable then eighteen submarines with air independent conventional propulsion equipped with land attack cruise missiles.