Will Australia's Nuclear-powered Submarines Negate the Regional Bomber Concept?

The Rockwell B1-B Lancer Bomber. Photo by USAF [Public Domain].

Australia's F-111 strike aircraft was a major element in defending the sea-air gap to Australia's north. The RAAF's F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation fighter and the stop-gap F/A-18F Super Hornet provide an up-to-date air force.

RAAF F-111s during Exercise Kangaroo '81 [Public Domain]

But without a long-range capability, I couldn't help but think our ability to deter a would-be attacker was rather anemic. That all changed with the decision to develop a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines as part of the new AUKUS trilateral security partnership.

The nuclear-powered Virginia class attack submarine has been touted as an option for the RAN.
Photo by DVIDSHUB [CC BY 2.0]

But what about the regional bomber concept that has been touted as another possibility for commanding the sea-air approaches to Australia?

This week I attended a live YouTube webinar hosted by the Centre for Independent Studies featuring the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's Peter Jennings. I was able to ask Peter the question: Do nuclear-powered submarines negate the need for a regional bomber concept to fill the sea-air gap capability left by the retirement of the F-111s?

Here is his thoughtful response:

The B1-R concept adopts the United States' retired B1 Lancer bombers and converts them to an Australian variant that has the potential to reinstate the lost sea-air gap capability.

For more information on the regional bomber concept, this article by Stephen Kuper (2020) sets it out well: Supporting allied long-range strike: Reviving the B-1R regional bomber concept