Biden to Announce Nuclear-Powered Submarine Deal with Australia and Britain

by -24 Views

WASHINGTON — President Biden plans to announce on Monday a landmark agreement with the leaders of Britain and Australia to develop fleets of nuclear-powered attack submarines that the three nations would use to strengthen their naval forces across the Asia-Pacific region as China bolsters its own navy.

The purchase and training agreements on submarines amount to the first concrete steps taken by the three English-speaking nations to deepen the ambitious strategic partnership called AUKUS that they announced 18 months ago.

The military deal, centered on Australia first buying the attack submarines from the United States and then from Britain, before making their own, marks the first time the United States is sharing the nuclear technology for such vessels in 65 years.

The move is a sign of the degree to which Mr. Biden and his aides are investing in strategic military planning with allies and partners to counter China’s growing capabilities and to prepare for a potential armed crisis over Taiwan, the democratic island with de facto independence that Chinese leaders claim is their territory.

Mr. Biden and the other two leaders, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain, are scheduled to visit a U.S. naval base at Point Loma in San Diego to make the announcement on Monday afternoon.

The plan involves the three nations expanding — or, in the case of Australia, starting from scratch — their industrial production capacity for nuclear-powered submarines and sharing technology and training with each other, a process that will present many operational challenges. The plan also embeds Britain firmly into American and Australian military strategies in the Asia-Pacific region — and is likely to put London at greater odds with Beijing in the coming years.

The arming of Australia with nuclear-powered submarines is part of a broadening by the Biden administration of the U.S. military’s presence in the Pacific. In recent months, Mr. Biden and his aides have announced they will help Japan build up its military after decades of a pacifist stance by Tokyo, and they will deploy American troops and equipment at more non-U.S. military bases in the Philippines.

The Biden administration has also worked to strengthen cooperation among the nations in the Quad, a nonmilitary partnership that includes the United States, India, Japan and Australia — all countries that are increasingly anxious about China’s expansive territorial claims and strategic intentions in Asia.

Chinese officials say the United States is trying to encircle China by working with allies and partners to constrain its rise. In a rare explicit remark on this, Xi Jinping, China’s leader, said last week during an annual political meeting in Beijing that the United States was leading Western countries to engage in “all-around containment, encirclement and suppression of China,” the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, reported.

Mao Ning, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, said last Thursday at a news conference in Beijing that the agreement on the submarines “constitutes serious nuclear proliferation risks, undermines the international nonproliferation system, exacerbates arms race and hurts peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.”

Australia will first buy three Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines from the United States — with the option to add two more — that would be delivered starting in 2032. American ship builders and weapons makers are already producing those submarines for the United States on a tight schedule. Australia is then expected to buy a new class of nuclear-powered submarines to be manufactured by Britain. Those vessels would use some technology from the American Virginia-class submarines. All the while, Australian officials, executives and engineers will be learning about the construction process from American and British counterparts, with the aim of making their own such vessels for delivery to their navy in the 2040s.

Some Australian politicians are demanding that Australian leaders ensure the arrangement brings substantial jobs to their country.

Nuclear submarines can stay underwater longer and travel farther than conventional submarines without surfacing. They are a substantial upgrade over the Australian navy’s six diesel electric submarines, which will soon age out of service. The nuclear-powered submarines are the headline items of the AUKUS arrangement, which also includes long-term plans to cooperate on artificial intelligence, quantum computing, cyberwarfare and missiles.

As part of the agreement, the United States and Britain will rotate nuclear-powered submarines into port in Perth, Australia, by 2027. The rotations will give Australian naval commanders and sailors a chance to train on the submarines.

Australian engineers will also work on production sites in the United States and Britain. The first of the new class of British-made submarines are expected to be delivered to the British navy by the late 2030s, before Australia gets the next batch.

Until the new agreement, the United States had shared the technology for nuclear-powered submarines with only Britain, as part of a defense agreement signed in 1958. Officials in Washington say it is one of the “crown jewels” of the U.S. military and the American defense industry.

Officials say Australia would have complete sovereign command over the submarines they buy. Australian commanders will likely ask to have some American and British service members work on the ships to help with the learning process, officials say.

The budget released by the White House on Thursday on Mr. Biden’s spending requests for 2024 mentions submarine modernization and expansion of the industrial base. That includes bolstering “four public naval shipyards to meet future submarine and carrier maintenance requirements,” it says.

The final point listed in a section on the budget for the Energy Department discusses nuclear submarine technology and explicitly mentions the aims of AUKUS: “The budget also funds the strong technical and engineering foundation that supports the president’s trilateral security partnership — Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States — which provides Australia with a conventionally armed, nuclear powered submarine capability.”

The initial AUKUS announcement in September 2021 by the three English-speaking nations took French leaders by surprise. They expressed outrage at Australia’s withdrawal from a $66 billion deal to buy French-made submarines. The Biden administration and Australian officials then scrambled to placate the French.


No More Posts Available.

No more pages to load.