By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - Australia will buy at least three conventionally-armed nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) under a trilateral security partnership with the US and UK, and the nations will work in tandem to develop a new "cutting edge" submarine, the countries announced Monday.
The sale of the three Virginia-class submarines from the US will be subject to congressional approval, and Australia is being given the option of buying two more "if needed," US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Premier Rishi Sunak said in a joint statement.
The nations jointly announced the formation of AUKUS, the trilateral security treaty for the Indo-Pacific region, on Sept. 15, 2021. It is designed principally with China in mind as Beijing grows more assertive in the region.
Another nuclear submarine being dubbed the SSN-AUKUS will be jointly developed by the countries in what they are calling their "first major initiative." It will be "based on the United Kingdom’s next-generation design that incorporates technology from all three nations, including cutting edge U.S. submarine technologies," the leaders said.
The submarine platform will be the next generation attack submarine for the UK and Australia, and construction is slated to begin before the end of the current decade. The UK plans to deliver its first SSN-AUKUS by the late 2030s with Australia seeking to do so by the early 2040s.
"AUKUS demonstrates our shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and an international system that respects the rule of law, sovereignty, human rights, and the peaceful resolution of disputes free from coercion," the White House said.
"AUKUS partners operating highly capable conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines will provide an assured undersea capability that contributes to stability, peace, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and around the world," it added.
Biden is currently in the southern California city of San Diego for a sit-down with Sunak and Albanese.
In addition to the development of nuclear-powered submarines, Australia will send military and civilian personnel to embed with the US and UK navies "subject to any necessary arrangements" to accelerate their training on the new submarines. The US will also increase SSN port visits in Australia this year, and Australian sailors will join them for additional training.
The UK will do so beginning in 2026.