(RFI) Australia announced on Monday (13) that it will buy three nuclear-powered submarines and possibly two others from the United States, and will manufacture a new model, with American and British technology, in an ambitious project to strengthen the West in the Asia-Pacific region. China warns that project could trigger arms race.
US President Joe Biden hosted the prime ministers of Australia and the United Kingdom, Anthony Albanese and Rishi Sunak, respectively, at a naval base in San Diego, California, to announce the project. With a US ‘Virginia’ class nuclear submarine in the background, Biden said that the United States would “safeguard stability in the Asia-Pacific region for decades to come” and that the alliance would strengthen “expectations of peace for decades to come.”
Known by its English acronym, Aukus, the association between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States will allow Canberra to replace its submarine fleet with a nuclear-powered one, which will add a substantial force to the Western alliance that seeks to contain China’s military expansion.
This partnership led Canberra to cancel a contract to buy French submarines in 2021, triggering an outraged reaction from Paris.
The Australian government estimates that the multi-decade project will cost nearly $40 billion in the first 10 years and create nearly 20,000 jobs.
Albanese, for his part, said it is “the largest single investment in Australia’s defense capability,” and stressed that the three countries are “united, above all, for a world where peace, stability and security ensure greater prosperity.”
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the project illustrates Washington’s long-term commitment to protecting “peace and stability” in the Asia-Pacific region. The association with Australia, which involves sharing secret nuclear technology previously granted only to the United Kingdom, is “a commitment of decades, perhaps a century,” he said.
The Australian government will purchase the nuclear-powered and conventionally armed ‘Virginia’ submarines “throughout the 2030s,” with “the possibility of augmenting up to five if necessary,” Sullivan said.
The new model, also nuclear-powered and conventionally armed, is a longer-term project, and will be called SSN-Aukus, the adviser added, detailing that it will be manufactured based on a British design, with American technology and “significant investment in all three industrial bases.”