March 14, 2023
On Monday, March 13, President Joe Biden reportedly planned to announce 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, according to The New York Times.
The purchase and training agreements on the 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 its own, marks the first time that the United States is sharing the nuclear technology for such vessels in 65 years.
The move is a sign of the degree to which 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.
Biden and the other two leaders, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain, were 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 building—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 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, Biden and his aides have announced they will help Japan build up its military after decades of a pacifist stance by Tokyo, and that 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 nations 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.
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.
Research contact: @nytimes