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Australia to get U.S. nuclear submarine technology as China looms large By Reuters


© Reuters.

By Steve Holland, Nandita Bose and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States, Britain and Australia will establish a security partnership for the Indo-Pacific that will involve helping Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines, senior U.S. officials said on Wednesday, as Chinese influence over the region grows.

According to officials, Australia will receive the technology and ability to launch nuclear-powered submarines under the new partnership. It is expected to be officially announced by Joe Biden and Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister, and Scott Morrison, reporters.

​They stressed that the move, which comes as Washington and its allies are looking for ways to push back against China’s growing power and influence, would not involve provision of nuclear weapons to Australia. The submarines will not carry atomic weapons, they said, however, it would enable the Australian navy and deterrence to be more quiet, longer-lasting, and better protect the Indo-Pacific.

According to officials, the alliance, which includes cooperation in areas like artificial intelligence and quantum technology, is not intended for any particular country.

This is an historic announcement. “It demonstrates the Biden administration’s determination to create stronger partnerships in order to sustain peace, stability and prosperity across the entire Indo-Pacific,” one official stated.

According to Australian media, the partnership will end Australia’s efforts to get French shipbuilder Naval Group to build a new submarine fleet that would replace its Collins submarines.

This has been one world’s most successful defense agreements, however it has experienced delays and issues due to Canberra’s requirements that the bulk of manufacturing and parts be produced locally.

“This new architecture is really about deepening cooperation on a range of defense capabilities for the 21st century, and … these relationships with Great Britain and Australia are time- tested,” the U.S. official said

While the officials took pains to say China was not the target, the United States and its Asian allies have expressed growing alarm at Beijing’s military buildup, pressure on Taiwan and deployments in the contested South China Sea.

According to the official, three nations would embark on an 18-month-long effort that will involve naval, technical and strategic teams. The goal is to find “the best way for Australia to pursue nuclear powered submarines.”

The Australian submarines will be able to deploy for a greater period of time, are more quiet, and have much higher capabilities. “They will help us sustain and improve the Indo-Pacific deterrence,” the official explained.

This pact will be a huge boon to the U.S. defence industry. General Dynamics (NYSE 🙂 and Huntington Ingalls Industries (NYSE 🙂 Industries could reap the benefits of the pact. They are the leaders in the U.S. submarine industrial base that includes thousands more companies.

General Dynamics’ Electric Boat business does much of the design work for U.S. submarines, but critical subsystems such as electronics and nuclear powerplants made by BWX Technologies (NYSE:) Inc

Britain described it as a very significant announcement and said the 18-month program would work out details as to what countries and companies would do what, with the aim is for the first submarine to be delivered as quickly as possible.

“This partnership will become increasingly vital for defending our interests in the Indo-Pacific region and, by extension, protecting our people back at home,” Johnson said in  statement.

An official from the U.S. stated that this announcement resulted of months-long engagements between the respective military commands and political leaders. Britain, which has recently sent an aircraft carrier into Asia, had previously indicated its desire to expand its involvement in the region.

The official stated that “We’ve heard in all these conversations is a desire by Great Britain to significantly step up its game on the Indo-Pacific.”

Great Britain holds enormous responsibilities and has great interests in Europe and the Middle East. But it also shares deep historical ties with Asia.

A U.S. official stated that the United States has only shared nuclear propulsion technology once previously – in 1958 with Britain – adding: “This technology can be extremely sensitive. This incident is something that we have not done before. “This is an isolated event.”

Officials said that the action was part of a “larger constellation of steps” to improve relations in the region. These include stronger bilateral partnership with Japan, South Korea Thailand, Vietnam, Thailand, and Thailand, as well strengthening engagements with other partners such as India and Vietnam.

According to the U.S., the official stated that Biden hadn’t mentioned plans for the trilateral partner “in any particular terms” to Chinese leader Xi Jinping last Thursday. However, the president of the United States did say “underscore our determination and to play a strong part in the Indo-Pacific”.

Just over one week ago, Biden will host the first ever in-person meeting with leaders of the “Quad,” a group consisting of Australia, India and Japan. This is a crucial step to counter China.

Biden has made the Indo-Pacific a key focus of its foreign policy and has had a number of highly visible visits to the region by high-ranking U.S. officials such as Vice President Kamala Harriman.