The Guardian • Issue #2103

Ghost shark vs AUKUS?

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Placard "Stop AUKUS WA, no nuclear subs, peace not war." Fight Climate Change Not War speak out and march Fremantle.

In a report for online outlet Pearls and Irritations, veteran analyst Brian Toohey speculates that the ‘Ghost Shark,’ might mean the end of the “deeply flawed” plan to spend more than $368 billion dollars on acquiring nuclear-powered submarines from the US and the UK.

Ghost Shark is the name of an underwater drone being developed for the Australian Navy, which has said it will give them “a stealthy, long-range autonomous undersea capability which can conduct persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and strike.”

A couple of words stand out there – “autonomous” and “strike.” This sounds like the Ghost Shark might be able to attack without human oversight. There’s a long history of human beings intervening to stop attacks based on technical faults, thus preventing World War Three, so having a robot submarine with the ability to make its own decisions about striking does not sound ideal.

Toohey has pointed out that if the drones can work well, they could “render Australia’s nuclear submarines redundant before they are anywhere near delivery.”

Defence industry minister Pat Conroy is enthusiastic about Ghost Shark, describing it as “an example of how Defence and Australian industry can move at speed to develop new sovereign capabilities.”

“Speed” is a brave word for anyone involved in Australian Defence to use, given how long governments of both major parties have taken to not replace our Collins-class submarine fleet. “Sovereign” is a dubious claim too: the Ghost Sharks are being developed with the Australian outlet of Anduril, a US AI and robotics company.

In other Defence news, Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead, who is in charge of the Australian Submarine Agency will not say if around $5 billion paid to the United States for AUKUS will be refunded. Australia may not be a super-power, but when it comes to spending money on not getting submarines, we’re number one.

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