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Two Australian Collins class submarines at HMAS Stirling Royal Australian Navy base in Perth, Western Australia. In September 2021, Australia, the UK and the US announced an enhanced trilateral security partnership called Aukus under which Australia will acquire a number of nuclear-powered submarines. Photo: EPA-EFE

Aukus alliance: Australia on track to unveil nuclear submarine plan in early 2023

  • Australia’s announcement will include a timeline for the arrival of the nuclear-powered submarines and how to bridge any capability gaps
  • It is part of its project with the US, UK under the Aukus security agreement for closer collaboration on defence, research
Australia is on track to make an announcement “in the first part of next year” on the path to acquiring nuclear-powered submarines under its project with the US and the UK, Defence Minister Richard Marles said.

“You don’t build a nuclear-powered submarine quickly, and so the question of when we would be able to have the first submarine in the water is one that is very pertinent to us,” Marles said on Saturday at a joint news conference with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin after talks in Honolulu.

Australia, the UK and the US announced a security agreement known as Aukus on September 15, 2021, pledging to cooperate more closely on defence and research. Under the deal, the US and the UK will work with Australia to help construct and maintain a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, expanding Australia’s military reach in the Asia-Pacific region.

US, Australia and Japan vow to work together against China

“It was great with Secretary Austin to affirm the progress there,” Marles said.

While extending the life of its existing, non-nuclear subs, Australia is seeking to “minimise and plug any capability gap,” Marles said. The announcement will involve a timeline for the arrival of the nuclear-powered models and how to bridge any capability gap, he said.

Austin renewed US warnings of China’s expanding role, citing “a growing challenge from autocratic countries” in the region and globally.
“We’re deeply concerned by China’s aggressive, escalatory and destabilising military activities in the Taiwan Strait and else where in the region,” he said.

What is the Aukus alliance, and what does it have to do with China?

Marles said China is seeking “to shape the world around it a way that we have not seen before”, posing a challenge for countries seeking “seeking to uphold the global rules-based order”, including freedom of the seas.

The Aukus agreement has been criticised by some of Australia’s neighbours, with China in particular escalating its concerns to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Beijing argued that the agreement to give Australia nuclear submarine technology breached international non-proliferation treaties.

After IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said he was satisfied with the Aukus partners’ engagement so far, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning accused the agency of turning “a blind eye” to international concerns.