An immense industrial effort, an unprecedented partnership and a common concern: China. Eighteen months after the formation of the Aukus alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, the leaders of the three countries met on Monday March 13 at the Point Loma naval base in San Diego (California). US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his British counterpart Rishi Sunak have revealed the stages of a development plan for nuclear-powered, conventionally-armed submarines, which will link their countries to very long term. “A historic day”, greeted the American president.
The three countries will notably join forces to manufacture a new generation of attack submersibles, called “SSN-Aukus”. From this year, for training purposes, Australian personnel will be embarked in American and British submarines, which will also make more rotations in Australia.
From the beginning of the 2030s, once the United States Congress has given its approval, the United States intends to transfer to Australia three used Virginia-class submarines, “with the possibility of selling two more if necessary”, specifies the joint press release. Washington will invest 2.4 billion dollars (about 2.2 billion euros) in its industrial sites and 2.2 billion in the maintenance of Virginia submersibles, between 2023 and 2027, a first formidable industrial challenge.
In a second phase only, Canberra will receive new submarines, the SSN-Aukus, based on a British design but with American technologies on board. To date, Washington has only shared this equipment with London.
Three “maritime democracies” facing China
At the end of the 2030s, the United Kingdom will have to deliver a first one, of its manufacture, in Canberra. It will be necessary to wait until the beginning of the 2040s, in twenty years, for Australia to have the first submarine entirely built on its soil. “Our plan increases the industrial capabilities of all three nations to produce and maintain interoperable nuclear-powered submarines for decades to come, expands our individual and collective submarine presence in the Indo-Pacific, and contributes to the security and global stability”the statement said.
The ambitions are impressive, but their realization will require decades, raising strong questions about the industrial, military and financial capacities of the three countries to take up the challenge. The absence of a common costing in the official communiqué and of the distribution of commitments between each capital reinforces this questioning.
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