Nuclear Submarines - Quick Guide To An Important Difference
Following the announcement that Australia will acquire "nuclear submarines" through the AUKUS (Australia-United Kingdom-United States) partnership, some confusion has arisen. In defense circles "nuclear submarine" is almost always used to refer to a nuclear powered submarine. Certainly in my experience. And that is the case with the AUKUS submarines. The politicians even labored this point during the announcement.
However, many observers, some apparently deliberately, have invited confusion and speculation by implying that it means nuclear armed submarines. This quick chart should hopefully help clear things up for those less familiar with submarine matters.
The nuclear-armed submarines in major powers use nuclear propulsion. These 'use ballistic missiles and provide an at-sea deterrence. These submarines are built for nuclear weapons, and such weapons cannot easily be fitted to other boats without a complete rebuild.
However, on a smaller budget it is obviously possible to put nuclear weapons on a non-nuclear (i.e. conventionally powered) submarine. This is believed to be the case for Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.
There is an argument that any form of nuclear propulsion (whether low or highly-enriched uranium), is only steps away from a nuclear weapon. However, emphasis on being steps away. And using submarine reactors as a means to gain nuclear weapons does not seem plausible. In Australia's case it seems that it has the raw materials, money and research reactor base to develop nuclear weapons regardless of submarine reactors.
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