Looking to China, Joe Biden and his allies unveil nuclear-powered submarine plan for Australia

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – The United States, Australia and Britain unveiled details on Monday of a plan to supply Australia with nuclear-powered attack submarines from the start of the 2030s to counter China’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific.
Addressing a ceremony at the United States Naval Base in San Diego, accompanied by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, US President Joe Biden described the agreement as AUKUS Partnership 2021 as part of a shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region with two of the United States’ “staunchest and most capable allies.”
Sunak called it a “powerful partnership”, adding: “For the first time ever, it will mean three fleets of submarines working together across the Atlantic and Pacific to keep our oceans free…for decades. coming”.
As part of the deal, the United States intends to sell Australia three Virginia-class nuclear submarines, which are being built by General Dynamics, in the early 2030s, with an option for the Australia to buy two more if needed, according to a joint statement.
He said the multi-stage project would culminate in British and Australian production and operation of a new class of submarine – SSN-AUKUS – a “trilaterally developed” vessel based on the next generation British design. which would be built in Britain and Australia and include “state-of-the-art American technologies.
Britain would take delivery of its first SSN-AUKUS submarine in the late 2030s, and Australia would receive its first in the early 2040s. The ships will be built by BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce.
“The AUKUS agreement we are confirming here in San Diego represents the largest investment in Australia’s defense capability in our history, enhancing Australia’s national security and stability in our region,” Albanese said during of the ceremony.
An Australian defense official said the project would cost A$368 billion ($245 billion) by 2055.
AUKUS will be the first time Washington has shared nuclear propulsion technology since it did with Britain in the 1950s.
Biden stressed that the submarines would be nuclear-powered, not nuclear-armed: “These boats will not have any nuclear weapons of any kind on them,” he said.
China has condemned AUKUS as an illegal act of nuclear proliferation. In launching the partnership, Australia also upset France by abruptly canceling a deal to buy French conventional submarines.
When asked if he was concerned China would view the AUKUS submarine deal as aggression, Biden said “no.” He said he expected to speak to Chinese leader Xi Jinping soon, but did not say when.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Friday highlighted Beijing’s own military build-up, including nuclear-powered submarines, saying: “We have communicated with them about AUKUS and asked them for more details. information about their intentions”.
Australia offered China a briefing on the submarine deal but was unaware of any response from Beijing, Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said.
The deal calls for the deployment of US and UK submarines to Western Australia as early as 2027 to help train Australian crews and enhance deterrence. US officials said this would involve four US and one British submarines within a few years.
This first phase of the plan is already underway with the US Virginia Asheville-class nuclear-powered attack submarine visiting Perth in Western Australia, officials said.
Big questions and huge investment
Senior US official says AUKUS reflects growing Indo-Pacific threats, not only from China to self-governing Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea, but also from Russia, which has also conducted joint exercises with China and North Korea.
Big questions remain about AUKUS, including tight US restrictions on the extensive technology sharing needed for the project and how long it will take to deliver the submarines, even as the perceived threat posed by China grows.
In a reflection of stretched U.S. production capacity, a second senior U.S. official told Reuters it was “highly likely” that one or two of the Virginia-class submarines sold to Australia would be ships that had been in service in the United States, which would require Congressional approval. .
Analysts said that given China’s growing power and the threats of reunification with Taiwan by force if necessary, it was vital to advance the second stage of AUKUS, which involves hypersonic weapons and other weapons. that can be deployed more quickly.
British and Australian officials said this month that work was still needed to remove bureaucratic barriers to technology sharing and Monday’s announcement did not cover this second step.
The second US official said Australia would help boost production and maintenance capacity for US and UK submarines.
He said Washington was considering a “double-digit” investment in its undersea industrial base on top of the $4.6 billion already committed for 2023-29 and that Australia’s contribution would be less than 15% of the total.
Albanese said he expected AUKUS to result in an A$6 billion investment in Australia’s industrial capacity over the next four years and create around 20,000 direct jobs over the next 30 next. He said this would require funding amounting to around 0.15% of GDP per year.
Britain, which left the European Union in 2020, says AUKUS will help boost its economy’s slow growth rate. Sunak said AUKUS “is building ties with our closest allies and providing security, new technology and economic advantage at home.”


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