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HMAS Australia (R23)

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The HMAS Australia (R23) was the only ship of the Australia-class. Its Australia's predecessor had suffered serious damage during the 2008 Indian Ocean War with the cost to repair the 55 year old carrier coming in at over AU$3 billion dollars. It was instead decided that they would build a replacement carrier while the old Essex-class carrier becomes a museum ship.

Design Selection[edit]

With patriotism in Australia running very high, Australia elected to get into the aircraft carrier business, ignoring the problems that had plagued Australian Submarine Corporation since its inception in 1988. Australia went looking for bids for a mid-sized aircraft carrier of roughly 40,000-45,000 tons and capable of carrying 50-55 aircraft. The British Queen Elizabeth-class was too large for the duty, and the Australians for the same reason turned down the American offer of giving them the ex-USS John F. Kennedy for free, with the only costs being whatever Australia needed to make it work with the Australian fleet. Several builders - including BAE Systems, DCNS, General Dynamics, Blohm and Voss and Canada Shipbuilding - proposed designs.

But the Canadian design had an advantage, courtesy of Pretoria.

South African engineers had begun working on pebble-bed nuclear reactor technology in the late 1980s, starting from a design that Germany had all but abandoned after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in June 1986. PBMR, Inc, had spent some $900 million developing the design beyond what the Germans had, and by 2007 had a workable design, producing some 100 MW of electrical power. The PBMR design by its very characteristics was also safer and more durable than older reactor designs. Plans were underway to build such reactors in South Africa, but PBMR had noticed the potential of the surprisingly compact design to power warships. The Australian proposal gave them a chance to test it out.

The Canadian proposal was the largest proposal of the bunch, carrying up to 65 aircraft and weighing just shy of 50,000 tons, while costing an estimated AU $5.8 Billion. The vessel, powered by two of the PBMR reactors, would have the power of the American Nimitz-class vessels with 40,000 less tons to move, and with turbo-electric drive allowing for virtually 100% of power being able to diverted anywhere around the vessel, thus making such systems and electromagnetic catapults and highly-advanced electronics both possible and easy. The vessel was by some margin the most costly of the proposals, but the Australians also knew it would be the most capable, and nuclear power had two advantages. Australia is a major exporter of uranium but has to import oil, which makes nuclear-fueled vessels better in terms of fuel availability - the higher price of oil during 2008 made the economics better, too. The pebble bed design is much less complex than normal reactors, and as such is much easier and cheaper to maintain, in addition to the fact that the vessel would have a virtually unlimited range and almost unlimited electrical power for defensive systems.

The RAN, along with much of the Australian public, took the view of the project "if we're gonna do this, get it right the first time." On March 25, 2009, Australia dug deep and announced that the next HMAS Australia would be the Canada Shipbuilding Design, complete with the pebble-bed nuclear reactors. It would be built at the Australian Shipbuilding Corporation shipyards in Geelong, Victoria, and was hoped would report for service in mid 2013. Australia would, in doing so, almost certainly become only the second country to operate a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, after the Americans and Russians.

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