(Reuters) – The leaders of the United States, Australia and Britain are unveiling plans on Monday to provide Australia with nuclear-powered attack submarines, a major step to counter China’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region.
In a joint statement, US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed plans for the so-called AUKUS project, first announced in 2021 at the US naval base in San Diego, California, the main home port for the US fleet in the Pacific.
Under the deal, Australia will buy three U.S. Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines in the early 2030s, with the option to buy two more if needed, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters en route to San Diego.
The project will culminate in British and Australian production and operation of a new class of submarine – SSN-AUKUS – built in the UK and Australia with British design, using a “significant” amount of Virginia-class technology, another senior US official said.
“The first UK submarines built with this design will be delivered in the late 2030s… and the first Australian submarines will follow in the early 2040s,” a British statement said.
Construction would take place in Barrow-in-Furness in the UK and in South Australia, the note said.
The agreement also envisions U.S. and British submarines deployed in Western Australia to help train Australian crews and strengthen deterrence, a second senior U.S. official said. The U.S. plans to begin these rotational deployments with a single submarine starting in 2027 and, within a few years, increase to four U.S. submarines and one British one, he said.
This first phase of the plan is already underway with the Virginia, a nuclear attack cruise missile submarine currently visiting Perth, Australia, officials said.