Eighteen months after betraying its alliance with France, Australia now has a roadmap with the United States and Great Britain to equip itself with nuclear-powered submarines.
“Together we will deliver SSN-AUKUS, a trilaterally developed submarine based on the UK’s next generation design, which incorporates technology from all three nations, including advanced technologies from US submarines” , announced from a naval base in San Diego (California) the American president, Joe Biden, and the Australian and British Prime Ministers, Anthony Albanese and Rishi Sunak.
In September 2021, the United States announced to everyone’s surprise that it had sealed an alliance with its two allies, called AUKUS, in order to strengthen security in the Indo-Pacific, in the face of a China deemed to be threatening.
An alliance which notably provided for the construction of nuclear-powered submarines, equipment with a longer navigation autonomy than conventional submarines and which could carry more sophisticated weapons.
The announcement, which de facto canceled the contract for twelve conventionally powered submarines that Canberra had previously negotiated in a formal contract with Paris, had opened a serious diplomatic crisis between Paris and Washington on the one hand, and resulted in a major trade dispute with Australia.
Overwhelmed by their own order book to renew their fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, the United States therefore leaves most of the construction to the British partner, according to the terms agreed by the three leaders on Monday.
According to the timetable presented by the three allies, Australia and the United Kingdom “will begin to build the SSN-AUKUS in their national shipyards during this decade”, and the United Kingdom will be able to deliver to Australia a first submarine to the Royal Australian Navy “in the late 2030s”.
Australia, which is to ramp up itself to build part of the fleet, “will deliver the first Australian-built SSN-AUKUS to the Royal Australian Navy in the early 2040s,” the leaders’ statement said. The costs for each partner are not specified. “The United States is examining the additional investments necessary to accelerate the production and maintenance of submarines in order to meet the needs of the United States and AUKUS”, only indicates Washington.
To familiarize Australia and increase its expertise by then, deployments of American and British submarines are planned during this decade, as well as training and training programs. A rotation of a British Astute-class submarine and American Virginia submarines will be organized from 2027.
Discussions with the IAEA
Without however stationing permanently: Canberra prohibits foreign bases on its territory. Australia is also not a nuclear power, which requires complex discussions with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to comply with nuclear non-proliferation rules.
The United States could also sell three Virginia-class submarines to Australia in the early 2030s, “with the possibility of selling up to two more if necessary,” the leaders’ statement said. “This step will systematically increase Australia’s sovereign VMS capability and support capability.” The decision will, however, be submitted to Congress.
China, which is watching the new game of alliances, has protested the plan again in recent days. “We call on the United States, Britain and Australia to abandon the Cold War mentality and zero-sum games,” said Mao Ning, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.