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Mother Nature jeopardises Australian submarine deal

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With top US legislators warning that America’s industrial submarine base is near a “breaking point,” plans to close four drydocks at a key base near Seattle could throw a wrench into a joint US-UK plan to sell submarines to Australia.

The US Navy has abruptly halted work at four drydocks in the Pacific Northwest due to the possibility of seismic activity, a recent statement has revealed.

Citing the “possibility of a large-scale earthquake occurring,” the Navy announced it will “temporarily suspend submarine docking” at three drydocks in Bremerton, Washington, and another in nearby Bangor.

A “recently conducted seismic assessment… identified potential issues associated with the remote possibility of a large-scale earthquake occurring simultaneously with a submarine maintenance availability,” the Navy wrote in a statement published Friday.
Eight of the US military’s 14 nuclear ballistic submarines are stationed at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.

It’s unclear exactly what was wrong with the facilities or how long they will take to repair, but the Navy says it is “working now to safely and efficiently return the docks to service with the additional upgrades in place.”

The Navy claims “this action does not affect the nation’s strategic deterrent capability or the ability of the fleet to continue its overall mission.”

But the statement suggests the military is already foreseeing delays in planned ship maintenance, and insists “work packages for each affected availability” are currently “being evaluated and structured to continue work pier side when possible.”

“The closure will still make it harder for the US Navy to field, maintain and then decommission nuclear-powered submarines,” wrote Australia’s ABC News, which complained “the United States is already struggling to meet its own Navy’s requirements to build two new nuclear-powered submarines every year, while more than one in three submarines in its existing fleet is currently in maintenance or waiting to undergo maintenance.”

Australian pro-government media has frequently fretted about the potential impacts the repairs could have on their plans to acquire nuclear submarines under the so-called “AUKUS” security pact, which would see the governments of the US and the UK manufacturing and selling them subs.

Earlier this month, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee warned that building nuclear submarines for Australia could risk bringing the US submarine industrial base to a “breaking point” – seemingly confirming comments by a top Navy official who claimed in August that “if we were going to add additional submarine construction to our industrial base, that would be detrimental to us right now.”

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