Aukus: Nuclear subs deal to include ‘substantial’ Australian funds to expand US shipbuilding | Aukus

Australia is to embark on one of its most significant, expensive and geopolitically consequential military operations in a century: the push to acquire, operate – and eventually build – nuclear-powered submarines

Australian taxpayers will pour “substantial” funds into expanding American shipbuilding capacity, as part of the multi-decade nuclear-powered submarine plan to be unveiled on Tuesday.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, was due to announce the details in San Diego alongside the US president, Joe Biden, and the UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak. Ahead of the joint event, Albanese said the Aukus plans would represent “a new dawn for Australia’s defence policy”.

Senior Biden administration officials said the budget commitment from Australia was “another manifestation of just how serious and critical this effort is”.

Australia would invite “rotational forces” of US and UK submarines to visit the country from 2027, while the first Australian-built nuclear-powered submarines would not enter into service until the early 2040s, the administration officials said.

Albanese said the plan was in the interests of all three countries. “The sum of the three is more than one plus one plus one in this case,” Albanese said as he met with Sunak on the eve of the announcement.

Further details were expected to be released later on Tuesday, but Biden administration officials said the plan would begin with increased visits by US and UK submarines to Australian ports “starting this year”.

“Once Australia is ready, as early as 2027, we will establish a rotational force of US and UK submarines in Australia – what we’re calling Submarine Rotational Forces West,” a senior administration official said. This rotational force would help build Australia’s nuclear “stewardship”.

The US and UK submarines would operate as sovereign assets under the command of, respectively, American and British commanders, but there would be “a significant degree of coordination in their activities”.

“Phase two will start in the early 2030s,” a US official said. “Once the Australians are trained and ready, Australia will buy from the United States three Virginia class conventionally armed nuclear powered submarines, with an option to buy two more if needed.”

This is expected to ensure Australia does not experience any capability gap when its Collins class diesel-electric submarines are retired from the 2030s.

The third phase of the program involves the design and construction of a submarine to be known as the “SSN Aukus”, to be based on a UK design but incorporate US technology – as the Guardian foreshadowed last week.

“Australia’s long-term submarine will be a state-of-the-art platform that uses the best of US, UK and Australian technologies,” the official said.

“SSN Aukus will be built and deployed by both Australia and the UK. The United Kingdom intends to deliver its first SSN Aukus domestically in the late 2030s. Australia intends to deliver the first SSN Aukus built in Australia to the Royal Australian Navy in the early 2040s.

“This is going to require significant improvements in industrial bases in all three countries.”

Administration officials said the US would announce an investment of US$4.6bn in its own submarine industrial base. While these would be American funds, Australia would also make a sizeable contribution.

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“Australia will also be contributing to our submarine industrial base, which is another manifestation of just how serious and critical this effort is,” an administration official said.

“That has been decided based on the principles of proportionality, fairness and transparency. And I just want to underscore: they will be making a substantial contribution to the US submarine industrial base.”

The funding for US domestic production could be a point of tension in Australia at a time when the budget is facing pressure on multiple fronts.

Ahead of the announcement, the Australian government released analysis suggesting that Aukus would support some 20,000 Australian jobs – including in the Australian Defence Force, the public service and private industry – over 30 years.

Albanese said on Monday the further investment in defence capability would not stop Australia from “investing in our relationships in the region as well”.

He said he had been speaking with other leaders in the Indo-Pacific ahead of the announcement “and it’s been well-received and understood why we’re doing this”.

The Coalition’s defence spokesperson, Andrew Hastie, earlier offered bipartisan support to the overall Aukus deal, saying it is “truly a multigenerational nation-building task for the Australian people” and that it “cannot fail”.

Speaking in Canberra on the eve of the announcement, Hastie said the opposition welcomed early reports of plans for the “rapid acquisition” of Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines from the US. He said this would partly answer the rapidly deteriorating strategic situation in the Indo-Pacific.

Hastie also acknowledged the Aukus project would require some “hard choices” in the budget because “money doesn’t grow on trees”.

Despite the Coalition’s recent opposition to modest superannuation budget changes, Hastie pledged to “work with the government to make sure that we can finance this”.

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