The AUKUS nuclear submarine program team has racked up a travel bill of $15.2m over the past two years. By anyone’s standard, that’s an incredible amount. But in the context of Anthony Albanese’s opulent $368B nuclear boat program, people inside the tent will see $15m as a drop in a very large ocean of funds. Rex Patrick looks to the details of the gravy plane.
In response to a Freedom of Information request made on behalf of Senator Jacqui Lambie, the Australian Submarine Agency has revealed that it has spent $15.2 million taxpayer dollars on travel over the past two years.
That’s $633K per month, or $21K per day. Talk about a gravy plane.
In that same period, Vice Admiral Jonathon Mead, the head of the AUKUS program, spent $197K on six trips to Washington DC and two trips to London. Three of those trips came in at more than $30K a piece.
The news comes as $368B program hits a congressional snag. The US Congress is starting to ask the US Department of Defense hard questions about the impact on US national security of transferring Virginia Class submarines to Australia when the US Navy is not meeting its own goals in terms of submarine numbers and availability. It was an issue raised in the Australian Senate in May when Senator Lambie questioned Vice Admiral Mead.
Mead responded, “I was over in the US as recently as mid-April. I’ve had discussions with the ambassador over there and with Congress. I went to the Pentagon, and I walked all the corridors. I spoke to my counterparts. I went to Norfolk, which is the biggest shipyard in the world, where they have nuclear powered submarines.
“There is overwhelming commitment in the US administration and the bureaucracy to support Australia in transferring nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.”
But he was wrong. Congress is anything but onboard. The US’ submarine construction and maintenance programs are struggling, beset with cost overruns, delays and supply chain difficulties. In this context, submarines for Australia may well mean fewer submarines for the US Navy at a time when the US military is convinced a conflict against China is brewing.
A fight for Taiwan?
The issue has been made all the more difficult with Defence Minister Richard Males assuring the Labor Party base that no promise has been made in exchange for the submarine transfer that the Royal Australian Navy will show up to a fight over Taiwan.
That comment has been noticed in the US and has given rise to expectation tensions.
Meanwhile, the flights go on, and the Qantas (Gold, Platinum, Platinum One) status credits build.
In August, MWM tried to work out why senior Australian defence officials were so keen to back the bankrupting AUKUS submarine plan. It’s a plan which comes at huge cost to the taxpayer and at huge opportunity cost to the rest of the Australian Defence Force, and a plan which presumes we won’t need any new submarines for at least a decade or indeed much longer – a heroic assumption about the current trend in US-China tensions over the South China Sea and Taiwan.
We concluded, “[Senior Officers are] benefitting from the arrangement. Building the AUKUS alliance is a tremendous career and institutional opportunity for them. The senior officers and officials who lead our Defence Force can focus on what they see as a much bigger thing; an alliance that involves important meetings, important decisions, trips overseas, and, for some, exchange postings. For them, effective integration of the ADF into the strategic plans of the US involves stepping up to be a part of the big league.”
It’s great to be inside the program. It’s high-life stuff, literally.
Retirement for Vice Admiral Mead is not too far away and so he’ll be long gone before taxpayers get to see what, or rather what not, they have paid a motza for. Many knowledgeable observers are starting to think this poorly thought-through program will simply not eventuate. There won’t be any nuclear-powered submarine, just the lingering odour of a bureaucratic gravy boat.