U.S. to sell nuke-powered subs to Australia in unprecedented deal

Source: Politico | March 13, 2023 | Alexander Ward and Paul McLeary

The three-phase plan between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. was unveiled today by President Joe Biden and his counterparts.

The U.S. is preparing to sell three to five nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, an unprecedented step that’s expected to pave the way for Canberra to co-develop and then eventually build its own attack boats in the decades ahead, President Joe Biden announced Monday alongside his allied counterparts.

Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese detailed a three-phrase approach in the Australia-U.K.-U.S. deal known as AUKUS, which ultimately ends with London and Canberra creating advanced versions of the highly sensitive vessel for their navies.

The three nations have a “shared commitment of ensuring the Indo-Pacific remains free and open, prosperous and secure, to find opportunity for all, a shared commitment to create a future rooted in our common values,” said Biden, standing between the two premiers in San Diego’s Naval Base Point Loma. “We’re putting ourselves in the strongest possible position to navigate the challenges of today and tomorrow — together.”

Biden outlined steps in the “Optimal Pathway,” beginning with Phase 1, which involves American and British submarines visiting ports in Australia and embedding those sailors into U.S. and U.K. forces and nuclear power schools. Both the U.S. and U.K. already use nuclear propulsion in their submarines, but Australia does not. Starting as early as 2027, the three countries will participate in a rotational submarine force aptly named Submarine Rotational Forces West.

Once enough Australians have been trained and the country has enough infrastructure to house many subs, then it’s on to Phase 2, where Canberra will buy three Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines from the U.S. with the option to buy two more if needed. That’ll take place in the 2030s if both U.S. and Australian funding and infrastructure improvements for American shipyards come through.

“We’ve developed a phased approach that’s going to make sure Australian sailors are fully trained and prepared to safely operate this fleet so they can deliver this critical capacity on the fastest possible timetable,” Biden said.

Phase 3, beginning late in the next decade, is the heart of the agreement. Britain will design and deliver to its own forces a new nuclear-powered submarine named SSN AUKUS, which will feature Virginia-class technologies from the U.S. Australia will do the same for its navy in the early 2040s based on the same new design.

The subs will replace the diesel-powered Collins-class submarines currently in Australia’s fleet. The advantages of nuclear propulsion systems will transform Australia’s undersea capabilities, allowing the submarines to stay at sea for months at a time, and give them virtually unlimited range without having to pull into port to refuel.


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