Australia on path to a nuclear submarine program by 2030s with US, UK help
The Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) partnership has identified the “optimal pathway” to provide Australia with conventionally-armed nuclear submarines by the 2030s with the best of U.S. and British technologies, senior Biden administration officials said Monday.
The AUKUS partnership has been focused on providing Australia with nuclear-powered submarine capabilities while upholding the highest non-proliferation standards. The partnership, which was created in 2021, has also helped to develop and provide joint advanced military capabilities to promote security and stability by countering China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
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President Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are expected to meet in San Diego Monday for talks and to announce the three-phase path for Australia to secure nuclear submarines.
“It’s a multi-phased approach that will deliver Australia that capability far more quickly than even we thought possible, when we originally and initially launched this partnership,” a senior administration official said.
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Phase one of the plan, according to officials, is already underway. Submarines from the United States and the United Kingdom will visit ports in Australia, and this year, Australian sailors will begin embedding themselves in U.S. and U.K. submarine forces and nuclear power schools.
As part of this phase, Australia is preparing facilities that will house submarines from the U.S. and U.K., and those are expected to be ready as early as 2027, officials said. The plan is to “establish a rotational force of U.S. and U.K. submarines in Australia.”
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“This rotational force will help build Australia’s stewardship,” an official said. “It will also bolster deterrence with more U.S. and U.K. submarines forward in the Indo-Pacific.”
Phase two, which is expected to begin in the 2030s, will see Australia buy “three Virginia-class, conventionally-armed nuclear-powered submarines, with an option to buy two more if needed.”
“This will help systemically grow Australia’s capabilities and stewardship for nuclear-powered submarines, and it will help ensure that Australia does not experience any capability gap when its current [electric submarines] are retired in the 2030s,” an official explained.
Phase three will begin in the late 2030s, and will work to facilitate Australia’s own long-term submarine program, which officials said would be a “state-of-the-art platform that uses the best of U.S. and U.K. technologies.”
“It will be known as ‘Assets in AUKUS,'” an official said, explaining that it will be based on the United Kingdom’s design for its next-generation nuclear-powered attack submarine. It will incorporate “critical, cutting-edge Virginia-class technologies from the United States.”
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“‘Assets in AUKUS’ will be built and deployed by both Australia and the United Kingdom,” the official added.
The new AUKUS pathway was created with “unprecedented” U.S. interagency cooperation. Officials said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “has personally had his hand on the tiller in making this all come together.”
Officials said that it was Russia’s war on Ukraine that “further underscored the need to invest in our defense industrial base writ large, and for our allies to do so as well.”
“AUKUS is just a manifestation of the need to do so,” an official said, stressing that Australia is one of the United States’ “very closest allies.”
“We feel very confident that they will take this unique capability in a responsible fashion,” an official said. “It will involve a level of sensitive, sophisticated technological cooperation that is almost without precedent.”
The official said that other Biden administration officials have briefed Congress and said there is “strong bipartisan support” and “enthusiasm” for the new plan.
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The official added the program is “arguably the most prominent example of President Biden’s commitment to invest in and modernize our alliances,” and “binds” the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia “together in ways almost unimaginable for the foreseeable future.”
Fox News’ Tara Prindiville and The Associated Press contributed to this report.