Australia to get nuclear subs in new US, British partnership

SYDNEY (AFP) – The United States (US) announced a new alliance on Wednesday with Australia and Britain to strengthen military capabilities in the face of a rising China, with Canberra to get a nuclear submarine fleet and American cruise missiles.

US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his British counterpart Boris Johnson did not mention China in unveiling their alliance, dubbed AUKUS – but their intent was clear, and their announcement prompted fury in Beijing.

The agreement angered France, which had been negotiating a multibillion-dollar sale of conventional submarines to Australia.

“This initiative is about making sure that each of us has a modern capability – the most modern capabilities we need – to manoeuvre and defend against rapidly evolving threats,” Biden said, speaking in Washington.

Morrison said the three nations all respected “freedom” and “the rule of law”, and that the alliance would help ensure security in the region.

The first major initiative announced under the new alliance was the fleet of eight state-of-the-art nuclear-powered submarines for Australia.

The submarines, said Biden and the other leaders, will not be nuclear-armed, only powered with nuclear reactors.

But they will allow Australia’s military to travel, and strike targets, far from its coast.

“(They) are quieter, faster and have longer endurance, which will allow Australia to deploy its future submarines to Indo-Pacific locations for much longer periods of time,” Ashley Townshend, of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, told AFP.

In addition to the submarine fleet, a senior Biden administration official said AUKUS would combine forces on “cyber, AI – particularly applied AI – quantum technologies and some undersea capabilities as well”.

Morrison later announced Australia would also acquire long-range US Tomahawk cruise missiles.

A Biden administration official underlined repeatedly how “unique” the decision was, with Britain being the only other country the US has ever helped to build a nuclear fleet.