SAN DIEGO: The leaders of the United States, Australia and Britain on Monday (Mar 13) unveiled details of a plan to provide Australia with nuclear-powered attack submarines, a major step involving an investment of hundreds of billions of dollars aimed at countering China’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific.
Addressing a ceremony at the US naval base in San Diego, accompanied by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, US President Joe Biden called the agreement under the 2021 AUKUS partnership part of a shared commitment to a free-and-open Indo-Pacific region with two of America’s “most stalwart and 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 keeping our oceans free … for decades to come.”
Under the deal, the United States intends to sell Australia three US Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines, which are built by General Dynamics, in the early 2030s, with an option to buy two more if needed, the joint statement said.
The statement from the leaders said the multi-stage project would culminate with British and Australian production and operation of a new class of submarine – SSN-AUKUS – a “trilaterally developed” vessel based on Britain’s next-generation design that would be built in Britain and Australia and include “cutting edge” US technologies.
An Australian defense official said the project would cost A$368 billion (US$245 billion) by 2055.
Biden stressed that the submarines would be nuclear-powered, not nuclear-armed: “These boats will not have nuclear weapons of any kind on them,” he said.
Britain will take delivery of its first SSN-AUKUS submarine in the late 2030s, and Australia would receive its first in the early 2040s, Albanese and the British statement said.
The vessels will be built by BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, the British statement said.
The agreement will also see US and British submarines deployed in Western Australia to help train Australian crews and bolster deterrence. The United States and Britain would begin these rotational deployments as soon as 2027, the joint statement said. The US official said this would increase to four US submarines and one British in a few years.
This first phase of the plan is already under way with the US Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarine Asheville visiting Perth in Western Australia, officials said.
SHARING NUCLEAR PROPULSION TECH
AUKUS will be the first time Washington has shared nuclear-propulsion technology since it did so with Britain in the 1950s.
China has condemned AUKUS as an illegal act of nuclear proliferation. In launching the partnership Australia also upset France by abruptly cancelling a deal to buy French conventional submarines.
Briefing a small group of reporters on Friday, Sullivan dismissed China’s concerns and pointed to Beijing’s own military buildup, including nuclear-powered submarines.
“We have communicated with them about AUKUS and sought more information from them about their intentions,” he said.