Australia has set the course of its next defense strategy, which includes the development of nuclear-powered submarines to repel attacks far from the country’s shores, Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said on Tuesday.
“Increasingly, we are going to need to think about our Defence Force in terms of being able to provide the country with impactful projection, meaning an ability to hold an adversary at risk much further from our shores across the full spectrum of proportionate response,” Marles said, delivering a speech at a university in Canberra, as quoted by the Australian Financial Review newspaper.
The minister also said that the new defense strategy relies on the establishment of a submarine fleet in cooperation with the United States and the United Kingdom within the AUKUS trilateral partnership.
Australia, the US, and the UK announced the AUKUS defense partnership in September 2021. The first initiative announced under the AUKUS pact was the development of nuclear-powered submarine technology for the Royal Australian Navy, which prompted the Australian government to abandon a $66 billion agreement with France’s Naval Group company for the construction of diesel-electric submarines.
Earlier, the Wall Street Journal had reported that the Biden administration is in the middle of discussions to expedite the construction of Australia’s first nuclear-powered submarines as guaranteed in the AUKUS defense pact.
The report said on Friday, citing Western officials, that the United States wants to build the first several nuclear-powered submarines for Australia and provide it with a submarine fleet by the mid-2030s in response to China’s growing military power.
The United States’ recommendation has not yet been formally approved, but a final decision on this matter is expected in March, the report said.
The report also highlighted the challenges the United States would face to complete the task, including the need to secure billions of dollars to expand its submarine-production capacity and a contribution from Australia to back the effort.
The White House said in a press release that Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – the countries that comprise the AUKUS security pact – have made significant progress toward ensuring that Australia would acquire conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines. The AUKUS allies will provide the submarines at the earliest possible date, the release said.
In September, the three allies announced the new trilateral security partnership, forcing Australia to abandon its $66 billion contract with France to receive 12 state-of-the-art conventionally-powered attack submarines from the United States.
In May, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the AUKUS security pact is provoking an arms race in the South Pacific without any consultation with island countries of the region.
China believes that the AUKUS partnership escalates the arms race in the region and urges the US, the UK, and Australia to commit to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei had said earlier.
“The trilateral security partnership and cooperation on nuclear submarines between the US, the UK and Australia create serious risks of proliferation of nuclear weapons, escalate the regional arms race, undermine regional peace and stability as well as threaten global peace and security,” Tan had said.
The official noted that China had always believed that any regional cooperation should strengthen mutual trust among countries in the region and pose no threat to others.
“We urge the US, the UK, and Australia to abandon the Cold War mentality and ‘zero-sum game’ ideas and fulfill its obligations in good will regarding non-proliferation of nuclear weapons,” the spokesman had added.