Aukus allies unveil plan to supply Australia with nuclear submarines

The US, Britain and Australia have unveiled a decades-long project to supply Canberra with nuclear submarines, marking a historic partnership that will bind allies closer as they confront China in the Indo-Pacific.

US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met Monday in San Diego, California to discuss the parameters of the submarine program against the backdrop of the Virginia-class submarine USS Missouri , to imagine.

“For more than a century, our three nations have stood shoulder to shoulder . . . to maintain peace, stability and prosperity around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific,” the three leaders said in a joint statement. “The steps we’re announcing today will help us advance these mutually beneficial goals for decades to come.”

Along with his Australian and British colleagues at Naval Base Point Loma, Biden said, “Aukus has an overarching goal – to enhance stability in the Indo-Pacific amid rapidly changing global dynamics.”

Albanese said the security pact marks a “new chapter” in relations between the three allies. “Aukus. . . represents the largest single investment in Australia’s defense capability in our entire history and strengthens Australia’s national security and stability in our region.”

Sunak said the growing assertiveness of countries from China and North Korea to Iran, as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, threatened to create “a world marked by danger, disorder and division.”

“For the first time ever, three submarine fleets will work together across the Atlantic and Pacific,” Sunak added.

The announcement followed 18 months of talks since allies signed the trilateral Aukus Security Pact in September 2021, which called for cooperation on some of the US’s most closely guarded military technologies.

Under the three-stage plan, Australia and the UK will jointly build a new submarine, dubbed the SSN Aukus, based on a modified version of a next-generation boat already developed by the UK.

Britain and Australia each plan to build at least eight of the multi-billion dollar submarines. The first Australian boats will not enter service until the early 2040s, while entire fleets will be built over the following two decades.

The three-stage Aukus plan

stage 1

  • The US and UK will train Australian sailors and engineers to operate nuclear submarines.

  • The US will deploy four Virginia-class boats to HMAS Stirling, a naval port near Perth, over a four-year period beginning in 2027. Fuel for the reactors is provided by the US, but Australia handles nuclear waste, including spent nuclear fuel. Britain will deploy an Astute-class submarine a few years later.

  • Submarines are deployed there, what the three allies call “West Submarine Rotational Force”.

  • Australia will begin construction of submarine dockyard infrastructure and maintenance facilities in Adelaide. It will also invest in the US and UK shipbuilding industries to help countries deal with production restrictions.

stage 2

  • The US will sell between three and five Virginia-class submarines to Australia beginning in 2032.

  • Submarines will be crewed by Australian seamen who have been trained to operate the nuclear-powered boats, but could also include US and UK “drivers”.

stage 3

  • Australia and the UK will begin construction of the SSN Aukus, which will be a modified version of the next-generation SSN(R) submarine that the UK has already developed. The first boats are not expected to enter service for another two decades.

  • The two countries will build the submarines together, but Britain could have a larger share of production in the early years while Australia expands its manufacturing facilities. However, according to a US official, the majority of Australian boats are produced in Australia.

Some British defense chiefs have signaled Britain is ready to expand its submarine fleet up to 19 in the future.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said America’s willingness to share its “crown jewels” — nuclear propulsion technology — with Australia as part of the pact underscores the importance Biden places on allies.

“If Ronald Reagan’s formula was ‘peace through strength,’ Joe Biden’s formula is ‘peace through American and Allied strength,'” Sullivan said.

“President Biden has spoken about this many times and feels very strongly about it. . . to connect our Atlantic allies with our Pacific allies,” he added. “That’s Aukus at its core.”

Australia wants to replace its diesel-powered Collins-class submarines with nuclear-powered boats that are more stealthy and can travel farther. The submarines will carry non-nuclear conventional weapons.

The US and UK will help Australia bridge the gap that will be created when the Collins-class submarines are retired in the 2030s.

US officials said that in the first phase, starting in 2027, the US Navy would deploy four Virginia-class submarines to Perth, Australia. Britain will send an Astute-class submarine a few years later. Sullivan said the USS Asheville, a Los Angeles-class submarine, is already in Perth.

Once Australia has built up a cadre of sailors, the US will sell Canberra between three and five Virginia-class submarines through a combination of new and refurbished boats. The target for the first procurement is 2032.

Australia will also invest in the US and UK defense industrial base, an unprecedented move aimed at boosting production capacity at strained shipyards. “To the extent that Aukus makes additional demands on this industrial base, the Australians are footing the bill,” Sullivan said.

Aukus, which includes a second pillar that includes cooperation in areas ranging from hypersonic weapons to quantum computing, will strengthen allied cooperation and increase deterrence against China.

Charles Edel, an Australia expert at CSIS, a think tank, said the “animating” push behind Aukus is China’s rapidly growing military power and increasingly aggressive use of force. He added that the security pact “is a harbinger of where American and allied strategy is going.”

A senior US official dismissed suggestions the US was trying to “contain” China, saying Aukus was an attempt to “defend and secure” the Indo-Pacific, particularly after “provocative steps” under Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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