Following 18 months of discussions, Australia is expected to disclose plans for eight nuclear-powered submarines.
Australia’s Prime Minister said Wednesday that he will soon meet with US President Joe Biden in Washington, where they are likely to announce a controversial nuclear submarine deal.
Following 18 months of discussions, Australia is expected to disclose plans for eight nuclear-powered submarines, in what Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has described as the country’s “single biggest jump” in defense capability in its history.
The agreement is part of AUKUS, a budding security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The first initiative announced under the AUKUS pact was the creation of nuclear-powered submarine technology for the Royal Australian Navy. The three countries also conduct regular joint exercises.
“I’ll be meeting with President Biden in the United States,” Albanese told journalists in Perth on Wednesday, “We’ll have further announcements about details soon about the arrangements that will be taking place.”
It is worth noting that Australia lacks the expertise to manufacture its own nuclear submarines, which have long-range and potent strike capabilities, and must instead purchase them from the United States or the United Kingdom.
AUKUS intended to isolate China
Since September 2021, AUKUS partners have reportedly been holding intense behind-the-scenes discussions about how to equip Australia’s military with sensitive nuclear propulsion technology.
The agreement has alarmed some of Australia’s closest regional allies, with Indonesia and Malaysia concerned that it may trigger an Indo-Pacific nuclear arms race.
While the submarines will be fueled by a nuclear reactor, Australia has said they will not be armed with nuclear weapons.
It is the first time that nuclear submarine technologies developed in the United States have been transferred since the 1960s when the US assisted Britain in designing its own undersea fleet.
The submarine contract is worth tens of billions of dollars, but analysts claim its importance extends beyond the jobs and investments promised.
Beijing has expressed strong opposition to the initiative, which it regards as “dangerous” and intended to isolate China.
Significant issues remain, including whether Australia would purchase US or British submarines, where they will be manufactured, and when they will be operational.
The AUKUS treaty also foresees collaboration between the three countries on hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, and cyber warfare.
The subs sale has sparked controversy in the United States, which is battling to build its own fleet of nuclear submarines.
In December, the chair of the key US Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Jack Reed, cautioned Biden that sending submarines to Australia may jeopardize American naval strength.
Reed also warned that the AUKUS agreement risked “stressing the US submarine industrial base to the breaking point” in a leaked letter to Biden. Australia had planned to purchase diesel-powered submarines in a lucrative arrangement with France but quickly canceled that deal in favor of AUKUS.