Aukus: United States, United Kingdom and Australia agree to develop a new type of nuclear submarine | International | The USA Print

The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, the military alliance known as Aukus, have reached an agreement of great military and geopolitical significance. The three will collaborate to create a new type of nuclear-powered submarine over the next two decades, which will be used in their respective Navies and which they hope will increase the group’s deterrent capability in Asia-Pacific against a modernizing China. his fleet to forced marches. It is the most concrete step taken so far to pool their military strategies and capabilities in Asia, the declared objective of the three governments when they launched their entente in September 2021.

The announcement came this Monday at a trilateral summit in California between the President of the United States, Joe Biden, the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, and the head of the Australian Government, Anthony Albanese, who among their acts of the day planned to visit the base. Point Loma Navy in San Diego. Parallel to the development of submarines, the three countries seek to unify knowledge, information and strategies in various areas, from hypersonic missiles to artificial intelligence.

“Our agreement on Aukus is part of our shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Biden said in a brief appearance at the military base -before a US nuclear submarine- together with Sunak and Albanese to announce the project, which it has already received criticism from China. En route to San Diego, his National Security adviser, Jake Sullivan, had announced that Biden “has indicated his willingness to hold a telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping once the National People’s Assembly has concluded,” the annual legislative session in Beijing. A conversation that would seek to reduce tensions between the two great rivals, aggravated since Washington shot down a Chinese balloon that had crossed its territory.

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For his part, Sunak stressed that “the challenges we face have only grown.” The war in Ukraine, China’s “growing assertiveness” and “the destabilizing behavior of Iran and North Korea threaten to create a world defined by danger, disorder and division. Faced with this reality, it is more important than ever that we strengthen the resilience of our own countries.”

In an indication of the “serious and critical” of the agreement, as described by a US administration source on condition of anonymity, and of how far the Biden government is willing to go to strengthen the alliance in Asia-Pacific, the pact involves the transfer of US nuclear technology to Australia. It is the first time Washington has taken this step in 65 years; in 1958 he provided part of his knowledge to the United Kingdom so that London could develop its own nuclear submarine program. It had not taken that step again even with its closest allies such as Canada.

US President Joe Biden (center) meets with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (left) and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the Point Loma naval base in San Diego on Monday.Stefan Rousseau (AP)

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“It’s a once in a generation opportunity,” stressed another senior US official. The agreement will be developed in three phases, as he explained: “Australia’s submarine capabilities and our combined deterrence posture to promote security in the Indo-Pacific will be increased with each phase.” These types of nuclear-powered ships are, along with aircraft carriers, the jewel in the crown of the most powerful navies: they are more difficult to detect, they do not need to refuel, they can remain submerged longer and travel longer distances than conventional ones.

The first phase is already underway. British and American submarines will travel to Australia for training exercises. Australian sailors will join the crews of those ships from the United Kingdom and the United States and will attend courses on nuclear energy taught by both countries. Australian workers will be present in the shipyards that manufacture this type of ship and, from now on, Canberra will begin to build its own facilities to produce and house the new ships, as well as the ships of its two allies. A US-UK submarine force will be established by 2027 and will rotate in Australia. “This rotating force will boost the deterrence capacity, with more submarines from both countries in the Indo-Pacific,” according to US Administration sources.

The second phase will be launched in the early 2030s, when Canberra plans to retire its aging fleet of diesel submarines. By then, and in parallel with the development of the new vessel, Australia will buy from the United States three Virginia-class nuclear submarines already under construction, with the possibility of acquiring another two. A remarkable investment: each of these ships has a price of 3,500 million dollars (about 3,260 million euros), or more than 10% of the current budget of the Australian Defense.

At the end of that decade phase three will arrive: the construction of the new submarine, the SSN Aukus. This vessel will be based on British designs for what was to be its new attack submarine, the now-discarded SSN R, and will use advanced Virginia model technology. All three countries will contribute components, but that ship will be assembled in British and Australian shipyards. London will add it to its fleet before 2040; Australia, which has to start from scratch to develop its industrial base for the manufacture of that giant, will include it after that year.

The project will not be cheap: the development of the Virginia SSNs has already been plagued with obstacles and their cost has skyrocketed above initial estimates. In this case, the United States plans to allocate 4.6 billion dollars to the production and maintenance of its industrial base for the manufacture of these ships. Australia will make “a substantial contribution”, according to senior US officials, who also highlight the opportunity to modernize its own industrial base in a highly specialized area. The war in Ukraine “has further underlined the need to invest” in this productive defense fabric.

A Virginia-type submarine, in 2014 near Connecticut.
A Virginia-type submarine, in 2014 near Connecticut.US NAVY (REUTERS)

The announcement is part of a whole series of initiatives and diplomatic contacts by the United States to strengthen its military presence in Asia. Its great concern is its systemic rival, China, which already has a fleet larger than that of the world’s leading power and is building new ships at a faster rate. “We need a bigger Navy, we need more ships in the future, more modern ships, in particular, that can respond to the threat,” the assistant secretary for the Navy, Carlos del Toro, warned last month. But, in addition, he keeps an eye on the activities of North Korea and Russia.

In recent months, the Pentagon has already agreed to send more soldiers and equipment to Philippine army bases, and to help Japan modernize its Armed Forces, after this country with a pacifist Constitution has decided to strengthen its Defense budget and give a more active role for its troops, also motivated at least in part by the growing Chinese power. Next month, Biden plans to receive Yoon Suk-yeol, his counterpart in South Korea, where the United States maintains almost 30,000 military personnel deployed at the White House.

The spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Mao Ning, had declared that the agreement on submarines “constitutes a serious risk of nuclear proliferation, undermines the international non-proliferation system, aggravates the arms race and harms peace and stability in Asia.” Peaceful”.

The Aukus alliance had debuted with a controversy over submarines a year and a half ago. When announcing the formation of the group, Australia announced that it was canceling the agreement it had until then with France to buy diesel-powered submarines from the European country. Then, the government of President Emmanuel Macron described this gesture as “betrayal”.

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