Mil News AUKUS Military and political News

Australia’s nuclear submarine program will cost up to $368 billion over the next three decades, with confirmation that the federal government will buy at least three American-manufactured nuclear submarines and contribute "significant additional resources" to US shipyards.

The Australian government will take three, potentially second-hand Virginia-class submarines early next decade, pending the approval of the US Congress.

There will also be an option to purchase another two under the landmark AUKUS defence and security pact, announced in San Diego this morning.

In the meantime, design and development work will continue on a brand new submarine, known as the SSN-AUKUS, "leveraging” work the British have already been doing to replace their Astute-class submarines.

That submarine — which will form the AUKUS class — would eventually be operated by both the UK and Australia, using American combat systems.

One submarine will be built every two years from the early 2040s through to the late 2050s, with five SSN-AUKUS boats delivered to the Royal Australian Navy by the middle of the 2050s.

Eventually, the fleet would include eight Australian submarines built in Adelaide into the 2060s, but the federal government is leaving open the option of taking some from British shipyards if strategic circumstances change.

Meanwhile, the federal government estimates the cost of the submarine program will be between $268 billion and $368 billion over the next 30 years.

As part of that figure, $8 billion will be spent on upgrading the naval base HMAS Stirling in Western Australia.

From as early as 2027, four US and one UK submarine will start rotating through Western Australia, to be known as the Submarine Rotational Forces West.

No decision has been made on a future east coast base for submarines, although Port Kembla has firmed as the most likely location.

Standing alongside Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, US President Joe Biden spoke of the strength of the alliance already.

"Today, as we stand at the inflection point in history, where the hard work of announcing deterrence and enhancing stability is going to reflect peace and stability for decades to come, the United States can ask for no better partners in the Indo-Pacific where so much of our shared future will be written," Mr Biden said.

During the announcement, President Biden flagged that, from this year, Australian navy personnel would embed with both US and UK crew on submarines and at their shipyards.

"In fact, as we speak, the nuclear-powered sub, is making a port call in Perth and later this year, there will be a rotational presence of nuclear-powered subs to Australia to help develop the workforce it will need to build," he said

Mr Albanese confirmed that Australian submariners were already undergoing nuclear power training in the US.

"I am proud to confirm that they are all in the top 30 per cent of their class," he said.

"This will be an Australian sovereign capability, commanded by the Royal Australian Navy and sustained by Australians in Australian shipyards, with construction to begin within this decade."

Australia’s nuclear-powered, conventionally armed submarines will be of a new British design, but their reactors, combat systems and heavyweight torpedoes will all be American.

After 18 months of intense consultations, details of this massive joint project to produce SSN AUKUS were announced today by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the US naval base in San Diego. A stated objective is to enable the three nations ‘to grow the size of our combined submarine forces’.

Albanese said this was ‘the biggest single investment in Australia’s defence capability’ in the country’s history and would require a whole-of-nation effort.

Throughout the process there’s been a strong focus on very visibly setting the highest standards of nuclear stewardship to ease concerns that have been raised about the possibility of the tri-national project driving nuclear proliferation in the Indo-Pacific.

The program is comprehensive and carefully stepped to build up a potentially lethal submarine deterrent in the region and to get formidable attack submarines into the hands of Australian sailors as quickly as possible.

Australia has declared that it will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons and will not enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel as part of this program. And while Australia is a major global source of uranium, it has undertaken not to produce the fuel for its submarines.

The reactors will not need to be refuelled in the submarines’ lifetime, and the UK and US will provide Australia with nuclear material in units that are welded shut.

While the reactors to be fitted to the new submarines will contain high-grade nuclear material, it cannot be used to make nuclear weapons without further chemical processing, which Australia says it will not seek.

The whole endeavour will proceed within the framework of Australia’s comprehensive safeguards agreement and its additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The three nations have consulted closely with the agency on the AUKUS program.

Rather than adding to the complexity of the project, using the US combat system and Mark 48 heavyweight torpedoes in a British-designed submarine will provide Australia with opportunities. The combat system and torpedoes will be evolved versions of those already used in Australia’s Collins-class submarines. Australia was involved in the development of both and will have a key role to play in incorporating them into the British design.

The US will immediately increase the number of submarine visits to Australian ports and the UK will make regular visits from 2026. While that will establish a nuclear submarine presence, it will also provide increasing opportunities for Australia to begin building the industrial capability to service and maintain the boats during their visits. The three leaders said that would increase capacity in peacetime ‘and meet operational needs in time of crisis’.

By 2027, the intention is for the US and UK to begin formally rotating submarines through the HMAS Stirling naval base in Western Australia under a formal process to be designated Submarine Rotational Force—West.

The base will be expanded to support the scale of infrastructure required for nuclear-powered submarines—both visitors and those that will belong to Australia. The UK is expected to provide one of its Astute-class submarines for these rotations and the US up to four Virginia-class SSNs. The partners stressed that this arrangement would not constitute basing, noting: ‘This rotational presence will comply fully with Australia’s longstanding position of no foreign bases on its territory’.

Apart from bringing strategic weight, that will also increase opportunities for Australian personnel to serve aboard the submarines of both allies. Biden said that would help ‘jump-start’ Australia’s capability.

Pending congressional approval, the US has committed to selling three of its Virginia-class ‘hunter-killer’ submarines to Australia in the next decade and it will provide up to five if required.

The three leaders said Australia and the UK intended to start building the submarines in their domestic shipyards before the end of this decade. The UK plans to deliver its first boats to the Royal Navy in the late 2030s. Australia’s boats will be built in Adelaide and the goal is to deliver the first locally built SSN to the Royal Australian Navy in the early 2040s. The three leaders stressed that the highest nuclear non-proliferation standards will be applied to each phase of this program.

Estimates of the total cost over the life of the program range from $268 to $368 billion. That includes running and maintaining the boats.

From 2023–24 to 2026–27, the program will cost an estimated $9 billion. Of that, $6 billion will come from funding that had been allocated to the since cancelled French Attack class conventionally powered submarine program.

Over the 10 years to 2032–33, it’s estimated that Australia’s spending on the AUKUS nuclear boats will rise to between $50 and $58 billion. Of that, $24 billion will come from the Attack-class program.

In the longer term, until 2054–55, the government estimates that the SSN program will absorb about 0.15% of Australia’s GDP on average.

The money will include an Australian contribution to the cost of the expansion of the American submarine industry base to enable the US to provide the additional Virginia-class boats for the RAN.

Having industrial capability in all three AUKUS nations will strengthen supply chains and make them more resilient, the leaders said.

The British company Rolls Royce will build the reactors to an American design.

A major hurdle will be finding and training the large numbers of specialised engineers and technicians required to build and maintain nuclear-powered submarines. And each of the new boats will require a crew of about 100. The Collins-class submarines currently operated by the RAN have crews of around 65.

Albanese said the submarine project would create around 20,000 direct jobs for Australians, including engineers, scientists, technicians, submariners, administrators and tradespeople. ‘[T]his investment will be a catalyst for innovation and research breakthroughs that will reverberate right throughout the Australian economy and across every state and territory, not just in one design element, not just in one field, but right across our advanced manufacturing and technology sectors, creating jobs and growing businesses right around Australia, inspiring and rewarding innovation, and educating young Australians today for the opportunities of tomorrow,’ he said.

The process of building up workforce numbers and skills has already begun. Australian naval personnel and civilian specialists are embedded with the US Navy and the Royal Navy and with relevant industrial bases in both countries. Australian submariners joined US nuclear-propulsion training programs last year.

The US Congress has passed a bipartisan provision allowing Australian naval officers to train at Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in South Carolina and eventually to serve on US submarines. The UK is also training some Australian officers on such courses.

Australian personnel already train aboard US and UK submarines and their numbers and seniority will increase as the program progresses.

Australia will send hundreds of workers to US and UK shipyards and scientists and technicians to US and UK technical facilities for specialised training and to gain the experience they’ll need to build and sustain nuclear-powered submarines.

It’s understood that regional nations have been extensively briefed on the AUKUS developments in recent weeks. Australias nuclear submarine program

Last week, US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the pathway for AUKUS that will deliver nuclear-powered submarines to Australia. Canberra will purchase three to five Virginia-class SSNs from the United States before buying eight newly designed, UK- and Australian-built ‘SSN AUKUS’ subs. The deal outlines new docking, training and rotation agreements that will provide the US with a more robust strategic hub in the Indo-Pacific.

The three leaders have promised that the submarine project will create jobs, educational opportunities and investment for all three countries. While the announcement is welcome in its bold strategic vision, it remains scant on details and does not address the elephant in the room: the weakness in the combined defence industrial capacity to produce so many boats in so little time with so few resources.

Recent discussions about a lack of industrial capacity to support the AUKUS submarine project highlight the continuing difficulties facing the trilateral technology security agreement. Leaders in Washington, Canberra and London all express the will to make nuclear attack submarines a reality for the Australian Defence Force in order to deter China in the Indo-Pacific. But the hard work of building submarines doesn’t happen in the national capitals. Regional, state and local politics and markets—including debates about sourcing of raw materials and development of skilled labour pools—require attention.

Public pressure is the force necessary to untangle the Byzantine knot of regulations frustrating the sharing of classified and otherwise sensitive know-how, and will make or break the program. While platitudes around mateship and the strength and history of the US–Australia alliance sound comforting, the fundamental groundwork to make AUKUS a success will require previously unimagined levels of political and financial investment in the locales where SSNs are designed, constructed and maintained.

As ASPI DC Director Mark Watson noted recently, ‘regardless of the strongly stated political and military support for AUKUS, members of Congress could begin to take a more ambivalent view if it comes at the expense of US operational readiness’, even when the strategic logic is compelling. Moreover, if policymakers don’t provide incentives and benefits—jobs, educational opportunities or tax breaks—to get rank-and-file voters onboard, the American, British and Australian publics will be unlikely to make the necessary sacrifices and investments to see the deal through.

Failure to seek public support among key populations and to explain why AUKUS matters beyond the strategic area of the Indo-Pacific reveals a misunderstanding of what is required. For example, while US congressional committees and Oval Office staffers make key decisions on the future of nuclear submarines for Australia, American taxpayers will, at some point, demand evidence of a return on their investment.

Without that dividend, Australia’s requirement for a long-range submarine capability will remain unmet. And American interests in linking industrial bases and integrating defence supply chains to share the burden of countering China through ‘collective efforts over the next decade’ will founder. US officials, Australian and British diplomats, and supportive strategists and researchers must make these arguments now.

The term ‘subnational diplomacy’ refers to the engagement of non-central governments in international relations and can include the foreign policy efforts of states and cities. We’ve seen negative publicity regarding subnational diplomacy in Australia in the case of the Victorian government’s aborted agreement with China on a proposed Belt and Road Initiative project in 2019. But for countries such as Australia and the US, these sorts of relations are commonplace and generally constructive. As Washington’s prime characteristics are partisanship and a short attention span, it’s no wonder that many promising bipartisan projects falter when campaign seasons begin or when other pressing foreign or domestic issues distract policymakers from following through. A subnational campaign to drive home the importance of AUKUS could help overcome these perennial structural problems.

For starters, entrenching the US–Australia alliance and particular projects associated with AUKUS at a state level can ensure Australia sells the importance of its interests to American voters. Australia has proposed investing $3 billion, mostly in America’s shipyards to expand and expedite production of the Virginia-class submarines. Australian policymakers will need to visit more than just Washington to discover the people who will be front and centre for AUKUS and who will help Australia meet its needs. Sending delegations that include officials and industry representatives from Australian states to boat-building cities in Connecticut and Virginia is a necessary next step.

Engaging on the ground means learning about and dealing with local politicians and community leaders. It also means dealing with labour unions, fabrication companies and the manufacturers of components beyond the nuclear technology that garners so much attention among DC tongue-waggers. State governments hold the purse strings on building new and refurbishing old shipyards or creating tax conditions and tax breaks for AUKUS-related investments. Collaborating with state governments, county officials and mayors will promote a smoother process of getting submarines quickly into the hands of Australian defence personnel. Moreover, robust subnational outreach opens the door to new investment opportunities for American companies and for Australian companies in the US to invest in Australia.

The demand for full-society cooperation and coordination is even more important for the second pillar of AUKUS, which promises cooperation on advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, cyber, quantum computing and undersea capabilities—and in which states such as Arizona, Michigan and Utah may play prominent roles. In these various fields, the private sector is often the lead innovator—and the lead investor. Commercial players working in conjunction with state and local governments is the way to fast-track the development of dual-use technologies and avoid ponderous federal bureaucracies and partisan DC politics.

Selling governors and mayors on the benefits of AUKUS investment—things they already want—coupled with a national security message is smart. Subnational engagement will pay dividends when the time comes for Australia to develop maintenance facilities for the new SSNs or to create new industrial hubs to support integrated AUKUS shipbuilding that combines the industrial bases of all three partners. Australia, too, will need workers, high-tech fabrication yards and access to vital materials. Standard-setting across shops and opportunities for cross-training workers—including apprenticeships connecting specialists in Groton and Newport News and experts in Barrow-in-Furness with trainees in Perth and Adelaide—will be important.

The all-of-country approach needed to meet the strategic challenges facing the US, the UK and Australia is an ‘integrated industrial base’ that benefits all three societies. The SSN AUKUS deal is a welcome step in the right direction. However, if the partners are serious about deterring China, subnational engagement—from the politician to the welder—is imperative. the Washington beltway for why AUKUS matters

When I was Australia’s ambassador to the United States, I visited General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut, one of two yards constructing the Virginia-class submarines. A Virginia was the backdrop in San Diego last month for the three AUKUS leaders’ announcement of Australia’s path to acquiring nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs).

Electric Boat plans increase its workforce by some 6,000, doubling the number of shifts. Hundreds of Australians will join them. Their training will be invaluable to the creation of a sovereign workforce to build and sustain our SSN AUKUS fleet and sustain our Virginias as we receive three to five of them in the 2030s.

As I entered USS Missouri’s control room, the captain asked if I recognised anything. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I am standing in the control room of a Collins-class submarine.’ He revealed that his last sea post had been as an exchange officer in Australia on a Collins. ‘Best I’ve served on,’ he said (obviously, a certain amount of hyperbole for a guest, but a moment of pride for me).

As ambassador it was my job to request US support for our replacement boat. We’d been looking at a Japanese drive system for the Collins, so I sought assistance from the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chief of the US Navy and the US defense secretary. They were, however, not the go-to authorities for submarines. That was Admiral James Caldwell, director of the naval nuclear propulsion program in the US Department of Energy. The first director was Admiral Hyman G. Rickover (1949 to 1982).

I experienced some testiness from the Americans along the lines of, ‘Get on with it’. They emphatically didn’t want us in the nuclear program and liked having allies with a conventional capability. They were particularly enamoured of the Collins, despite criticism in Australia, and found it virtually impossible to detect on exercises. But their overwhelming concern was to limit access to the nuclear technologies in which they enjoyed global superiority. Over Rickover’s screaming objections, they shared that technology with the British 65 years ago, and wanted to spread it no further. The AUKUS arrangement is strongly supported in the US but runs very much against their nature. Technology transfers will require congressional approval and there will be much work for the embassy.

There’s been a lot of discussion about threats to our sovereignty once we acquire the US-made Virginia SSNs. The Americans have made clear that all facets of their deployment will be under our control. In accordance with the nuclear non-proliferation processes thus far endorsed by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the reactors’ fuelling will be handled by the Americans. Any decision to go to war, or not to, will be solely a matter for Australia’s government.

Until Australia receives its SSNs, British and American boats operating from here will be designated Submarine Rotational Forces—West and will have their own lines of authority. That’s been the case with submarines that have made nearly 300 visits to HMAS Stirling since the early 1980s.

The US–Australia alliance is critical to our survival, and ensuring its effectiveness involves intense work on commonality of systems. We acquire the best of our ally’s equipment. The Australian Defence Force’s strike, intercepting, surveillance and transport aircraft are virtually all American, including the F-35 Lightning IIs, Superhornets, Growlers, Wedgetails, P-8 Poseidons, C-17 Globemasters, C-130 Hercules, Chinooks and Black Hawks. Hardly commented on but huge is the acquisition of 200 Tomahawk missiles likely to be deployed from our submarines and destroyers. In addition, we’ll receive the HIMARS missile system. A sovereign missile capability is being developed through the guided weapons and explosive ordnance enterprise. Exposure of threats in our region is much assisted by our joint intelligence-gathering facilities. Our navy’s sensing and weapon systems are largely American. We don’t feel our sovereign decision-making is curtailed by our need to acquire these weapons and spares. If origin equals sovereignty, we lost it long ago. But of course, it doesn’t.

Despite the US government overriding Rickover’s objections, the British didn’t feel obliged to join the allies in Vietnam. Indeed, until that war the Royal Australian Navy flew the Royal Navy’s ensign. The British objected because they didn’t want our ships mistaken as British. They had an active trade with North Vietnam. Without access to the best American equipment ,we would have virtually no affordable defence. The SSNs will be in continuation.

I strongly support the government’s SSN decision. Ironically, if Sweden’s Saab, which now owns the company that designed the Collins, had been allowed to bid for the Collins replacement, it may well have beaten the French and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. We are fortunate that this opportunity has arisen. Courtesy of Rickover, the nuclear boats are very safe. He was almost paranoid about safety and believed that any accident, particularly in port, would end his program. Our sailors and workers will be trained to the highest level, and the boats will likewise be built to that standard.

Conventional boats are quiet and difficult to detect. Nuclear boats are not as quiet, but they are quiet. The conventional boats are deft lurkers, but they have discretion issues as radars and other detection systems improve. Our Collins boats have two to three days submerged before they must ‘snort’, raising a mast to take in air to drive their diesel engines and recharge their batteries. As they do that, they can be detected. Air-independent propulsion could extend their time deeply submerged, but in a conflict that remains a vulnerability.

When a submarine discharges a weapon, it is exposed. SSNs are fast and can depart very quickly. Conventional boats are not so fast, and they are slow to reach their station. Diesel–electric conventional boats must vacate the deployment area to refuel, and an enemy knows where they do it. Nuclear boats, not so. Their deployment time is influenced by crew endurance and food. Speed gives the nuclear boats advantages in open waters and in discretion close to shore.

As retired Rear Admiral David Oliver, who has operated both types of boats, told the Lowy Institute: ‘Nuclear submarines [close in] have such inherent advantages, in that the ocean is so noisy and layered that sounds pursue odd paths.’ He also argues: ‘Nuclear-powered submarines will give Australia invulnerability. There is no nation or system that can prevent a determined attack by a nuclear submarine.’ The Chinese know this, too, and as they attack the AUKUS program, they are building SSNs at pace.

Our nuclear boats will be expensive—up to $368 billion—which will increase the defence budget by 0.15%. The government has said it hopes to make savings towards them. I would argue that lifting defence’s share of GDP from 2% to 2.15% would be fine. In my day it was 2.3% to 2.5%. We can’t make this long-term program the enemy of what must be done now. This is a government of cautious financial management, but it has prioritised national security. Defence spending is massively outweighed by what we spend on social programs. The National Disability Insurance Scheme, for example, will cost at least four or five times that $368 billion over the same 30-year period.

It will probably take a decade to get our first Virginia-class boat and slightly less than two decades for our first British–Australian-designed boat incorporating much American capability. But it’s a major deterrent. The rotation of allied boats will be much sooner, and that helps. Deterrence, not war, is the government’s objective. Its diplomacy is clearly directed towards that. The suggestion that our sovereignty is impinged on by this, when our total program is considered, is untrue. A massive lift in our military effectiveness is assured. submarines are vital to Australias defence
US Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said Australia's contribution to the three-way AUKUS agreement, which includes Britain, "doesn't always have to be dollars".

The pact was signed in late 2021 and is seen as a way of countering China's growing clout in the Asia-Pacific region.

Work under AUKUS has so far focused on supplying Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, a fleet capable of travelling stealthily over vast distances and striking foes at long range.

But the pact is increasingly focused on developing advanced capabilities such as long-range precision firing, artificial intelligence and hypersonic weapons.

Wormuth said Australia could be a proving ground for these weapons.

"One thing Australia has in spades is long distances and relatively unpopulated land," she told AFP in a telephone interview from Washington.

"A challenge for us in the United States when it comes to hypersonics or even some of our things like the precision strike missile -- which is not a hypersonic weapon but has very long ranges in some of its increments -- for us to find open spaces in the United States where we can actually test these weapons, it's a challenge.

"Australia obviously has a tremendous amount of territory where that testing is a little bit more doable -- so I think that's a unique thing, as an example, that the Australians bring to the table."

The September 2021 announcement of Australia’s transition to nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) under the AUKUS program indicated that ‘at least eight’ would be acquired. More recently, the rhetoric has firmed up to eight, with the program director telling a Senate committee in May that there would be three Virginia-class SSNs and five AUKUS SSNs. Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead implied that this was the full extent of the program and that decisions for what followed would be left for a future government.

A decision to stop at eight overlooks critical strategic, industrial and personnel considerations that determine the number of submarines Australia acquires.

Since the 2009 defence white paper, successive reviews have affirmed the need for 12 submarines supported by a base on each coast providing specialised infrastructure, workshops and a submarine squadron staff. While nuclear propulsion provides much greater mobility, a submarine can only be in one place at a time. Once its position is revealed by counter-detection or its own offensive actions, uncertainty over its location is removed and with that, its deterrent value diminishes for a period. Added to the reality of our geography, a force able to deploy at least two submarines on each coast would require at least 12 SSNs to provide ongoing uncertainty (for an adversary) and, if needed, operational impact.

It takes three to four submarines to guarantee having one available for deployment. The ‘rule of three’ was validated by the Coles review, but that doesn’t include any spare capacity to cope with unexpected defects. The UK and French experiences confirm that four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) are required to sustain one at sea—noting that SSBNs operate in a much lower mechanical and operationally stressed environment than SSNs.

Industrial issues are significant factors in the cost of ownership and effectiveness of the force. Australia intends to build the AUKUS SSNs in Adelaide. That is thoroughly commendable, but we should expect delays and difficulties as we learn how to do it. In all shipbuilding programs, the time and cost of successive vessels reduces as the workforce and processes are optimised. Typically, based on Australian (and global) experience, the third submarine will cost some 40% less than the first, with much smaller reductions anticipated as later submarines are built.

This only works if the building program is continuous. Stop–start shipbuilding is a well-known recipe for prolonged delays and grossly inflated costs, as demonstrated by Britain’s Astute class, which, according to a House of Commons Defence Committee report in early 2010, was already by then 57 months late and 53% over budget.

Once we have mastered the complexities of building SSNs, as I am sure we will, we shouldn’t stop building.

Australia is planning on a three-year interval between delivery of submarines, driven by the time it will take to generate a crew from our small submarine personnel base and limited sea training capacity in operational Collins-class and US and UK submarines.

Construction of the first submarine will take longer and reduce to a steady state after three or four are built and the workforce has made its way up the learning curve and processes have been optimised. The building process is a production line—at any time, submarines will be in different states of completeness. Construction time doesn’t determine the drumbeat for delivery; rather, construction starts in sufficient time to achieve the delivery drumbeat.

Three years is a slow drumbeat industrially. Shorter would be more efficient but is currently not feasible because of personnel limitations. The personnel training limitation should ease once Australia has at least six SSNs at sea. The drumbeat could then be shortened. A slow drumbeat is more expensive due to idle production but is also likely to contribute to a loss of skilled workers; witness the UK’s experience at Barrow in Furness because of the slow Astute drumbeat.

A construction program building eight submarines at a three-year drumbeat would take 21 years. Submarines typically have a hull life of 25–30 years. Thus, this production line would have nothing to build for four to nine years, and would then be then back into stop–start shipbuilding.

A force of 10 SSNs at a three-year drumbeat with a planned 27-year life is the minimum to provide a continuous-build program, avoiding the stop–start situation. A force of 12 could achieve a shorter drumbeat in the later stages when the personnel restrictions are not so severe.

Decisions on the final size of the force must be made now, at the program’s inception. They drive industrial issues such as the size of facilities, production-line technology, the supply chains supporting the force and the ordering of long lead items such as the reactor. The decision cannot responsibly be left for a future government.

My study of British, French and US submarine-crewing policies, summarised in my 2018 ASPI report, concluded that a force of 10 SSNs with 10 crews was essential to generate the minimum critical mass of experienced personnel. A smaller force will not generate sufficient highly experienced personnel to oversee the safe technical and operational aspects of the program. That calculation assumed one base and one submarine squadron. Two-ocean basing with an additional 200 highly experienced squadron staff, a key link in the operational and safety chain, would require at least 12 SSNs.

Britain’s Royal Navy has six or seven SSNs and four SSBNs operating from one base in a single squadron. Its personnel situation is dire. High wastage rates and shortfalls in many critical categories have reportedly necessitated drafting non-volunteers to submarine training and cannibalising parts and crew to get even one submarine to sea. At times, the RN is unable to achieve even one. Is that where Australia is heading?

The issues are undoubtedly more complex than simply the size of the force, but it reinforces the point that a force of eight SSNs requiring six to seven crews is below critical mass, vulnerable to personnel shortfalls, will struggle to sustain two SSNs deployed, and won’t be able to sustain two-ocean basing.

Even more problematic is whether Australia can achieve an operational, sustainable and deployable SSN capability from eight boats made up of a mix of Virginia and AUKUS designs. The mix of classes adds to the complexity, cost and risk because it entails two supply chains and differing major onboard equipment, spares, and training systems and simulators.

Australia requires at least 12 SSNs to sustain two-ocean basing with two deployable on each coast in the good times. A force of 18—nine on each coast—would be more resilient, reliably providing two deployable SSNs, with three available in the good times.

Eight is plainly insufficient on all counts.

Leaving the decision for a later government will mean greater expense and increase the risk that the program doesn’t produce the needed strategic capability, while stripping funds from other key defence capabilities. A lack of decision, along with Australia’s failure to join the AUKUS SSN initial design effort, indicates inadequate commitment.

A ‘damn the torpedoes’ transition to SSNs could leave us with no submarine capability.

If Australia is not prepared to, or cannot, invest the resources to achieve a viable SSN force, we are better off not continuing down this path.
Peter Briggs is a retired submarine specialist and a past president of the Submarine Institute of Australia.

The United States has never sold a nuclear-powered vessel to any nation. In 1958 it transferred technology that enabled the UK to build its own nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) and ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). Washington’s decision to provide this technology to Australia under the AUKUS agreement is tough, complex and, in some ways, frightening. It reflects a late realisation that the US needs effective allies, particularly in the maritime environment of the Indo-Pacific. Canberra is among Washington’s most trustworthy friends.

The only US ally exempt from its cumbersome International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) is Canada, and that arrangement was briefly suspended in 1999–2001 over doubts about the Canadian security regime.

For AUKUS Pillar 1 (submarines) and Pillar 2 (technologies) to work, the UK and Australia require the same exemption. Australia’s SSN requires more. The US Congress must be convinced that our security systems can be trusted with secrets, and that the boats sold to us will not dangerously deplete US combat capability. This is arguably America’s most important weapons system and one that potential enemies will be unlikely to match.

For Australia this is a long-term program. There’s urgency in our defence situation, but our immediate major tasks are to support American and British submarines rotated through the HMAS Stirling naval base and to train crews, maintenance personnel and construction workers. We hope that deterrence works and those boats don’t have to turn lethal. They will come just in time to replace our six Collins-class submarines as the development of underwater interception capabilities makes the environment lethal for conventional boats.

Submarines are valuable for surveillance, reconnaissance, insertion of special forces, mining and countermining, and to deliver lethal effects at sea using torpedoes and missiles, and, increasingly, on land. Their capacity to remain clandestine and locate anywhere at sea optimises their deterrent value. The conventionally powered Collins boats carry similar weapons, but SSNs have many more of them. SSNs can range over broader areas at greater speed, which heavily complicates the task of any potential enemy. When an SSN has fired a weapon and its general location is known, it can rapidly vacate the zone.

An adversary’s surface warships or submarines have four routes through the archipelago to Australia’s north to reach our waters. A Collins can intercept, but it doesn’t have the speed to follow. An SSN has that speed and it can reposition rapidly if necessary. Our military capabilities on the surface or on land can potentially be targeted but SSNs cannot. That’s why the government sees their essential deterrent value. We have no equivalent. The defence minister is constantly being asked why we must have SSNs despite their high cost. The $369 billion over 30 years is a bagatelle compared with what we will spend on the National Disability Insurance Scheme and many other social programs over that period.

This is the essence of our deterrence: a heavy weapon that can hit targets on land and sea. Previously that was the role of the F-111 bomber. Years ago my Indonesian defence counterpart, the late General Beni Moerdani, told me that when those around the cabinet table with him were angry with Australia and inclined to do something about it, he would remind them that Australia had an aircraft that could put a bomb through a specific window. That capability is effectively restored by SSNs—and the delivery system can’t be seen.

Australia won’t have its first SSN for 10 years. The beginning of the program is the most fraught, but it will be challenging throughout. The plan is to fold the AUKUS bills in Congress into the US National Defense Authorization Act. One of the plan’s strongest supporters, Democratic Representative Joe Courtney, tells me the Senate still hasn’t appointed conferees for this process. The House has. Conference is how disagreements between the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate are rationalised. The House Foreign Affairs Committee backed the plan 48–0. In the Senate, Republican Roger Wicker has put a hold on it. He wants from the president a full industrial base plan before supporting the sale. That isn’t necessary and the industrial build-up is proceeding at pace.

The question for Wicker and others is not whether Australia should have SSNs but whether a target to get 66–69 SSNs in the US inventory can be reached if we get ours. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of boats delivered drop to 1.2 a year when 2.3–2.5 is necessary. Available numbers dropped to 60% because of maintenance challenges. It is now back to 67% and SSN production has climbed to two per year. The US Navy wants 80% available and believes that can be reached by 2028.

The US has almost finished building Block IV Virginia-class SSNs, the version we want. A much bigger Block V version is now the focus. It has a substantially larger number of vertical launchers for cruise missiles with ultimately a hypersonic missile version. This capability replaces the launchers in four soon-to-be-paid-off converted SSBNs.

This month a five-year industrial agreement between submarine builder Electric Boat and its 3,400 skilled employees was completed. The agreement incorporates a substantial wage rise, retention bonuses, a lift in retirement savings, a comprehensive medical plan and increases in vacation and sick leave. These conditions also apply to the 5,000 workers the company has been trying to recruit this year. It reached 4,000 in August. It is also outsourcing production to other companies, with assembly in the main yards. Americans can do things quickly when money and workforce are available. Joe Biden’s administration will need to convince doubters and the $3 billion Australia is putting in is proving useful in discussion in Congress.

Exemption from ITAR is critical. I thought that had been achieved in 2010 when we and the British negotiated the Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty which ratified a 2007 agreement between George W. Bush and John Howard, but it fell short of the Canadian exemption.

ITAR makes cooperation with US companies difficult because, if a good product is developed, sales to third countries may be blocked. The US is deeply concerned about Chinese intelligence capabilities. The director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Mike Burgess, noted that after AUKUS was announced a massive Chinese espionage effort was detected aimed at Australian government, industrial and educational entities.

Defence News says a strong effort is being mounted in the administration and Congress. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommended a different approach to ITAR reform which scooped us up, and that has passed the Senate 86–11 as an amendment to the 2024 defence policy bill. Kurt Campbell, National Security Council coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, said this was not ‘whether to’, but ‘how to’. The State Department has also established an AUKUS trade authorisation mechanism as an interim capability to speed up technology transfer.

The Americans have identified areas including quantum computing, artificial intelligence and hypersonics where our research is ahead of theirs. Anthony Di Stasio, who oversees Defence Production Act grants, has suggested Australia would help bolster US supply chains for critical minerals like cobalt and explosive materials like TNT.

We need patience. The American decision-making environment is complicated. We know how to work it but we can expect much frustration. We can only hope that our diplomatic skills and those of our allies prevent a major conflict in our region while we restructure.

Events in the Middle East and Ukraine may divert attention when we need intense US legislative concentration on the AUKUS issues, but we have time. No SSNs are due until the 2030s and, in the meantime, the structures to support rotating allied forces are relatively easy to establish. The future crews can be trained on allied boats. The capability is worth the effort.
Kim Beazley is a senior fellow at ASPI. He served as Australia’s defence minister from 1984 to 1990 and as ambassador to the US from 2010 to 2016. will be worth the waitand the cost

The AUKUS program—sweeping in the intimacy and level of its proposed cooperation—has enjoyed a high level of bipartisan support among the Australian political elite. First agreed by the Coalition government in September 2021, it was reaffirmed by the Australian Labor Party—then in opposition—within 24 hours, subject to a small number of caveats. The Labor government under Anthony Albanese has taken more fulsome ownership of the program since its election in May 2022. The prime minister was in Washington last week, meeting with President Joe Biden and making the case for AUKUS with some recalcitrant members of the US Congress.

That bipartisanship is unsurprising, given the golden chalice that AUKUS holds out to Australia: namely, assistance in the acquisition of eight nuclear-powered submarines (Pillar 1), a capability exercised by few countries worldwide, and a seat at the top table in exploring the potential of a range of cutting-edge technologies (Pillar 2).

But it would be wrong to imagine that AUKUS is above political debate. Indeed, quite the opposite. The program has provoked the revival of some old areas of contention in Australian strategic policy and encouraged a few new ones. I intend to explore five: three that relate directly to AUKUS and two others that reflect older, wider divisions.

The two broader debates are about:

  • the near versus the far in Australian strategic policy priority-setting
  • the relative balance between Asia and the Anglosphere in Australian strategic linkages.
The three that touch directly on AUKUS are about whether the program will:

  • deliver the hoped-for blend of purchased US submarines and home-built Australian ones
  • have a distortionary effect on other defence and social spending (what we might call the ‘elephant on the waterbed’ effect)
  • provide the right outcomes—a debate spurred in part by a sotto voce concern about whether the advanced technologies of Pillar 2 will, in fact, help provide the means of tracking and sinking the submarines so expensively procured under Pillar 1.
Let’s start with the near–far debate. It’s an old debate in Australia that’s always close to the surface. It pits those who believe Australia should concentrate on fighting off existential threats close to home—‘border wars’— against those who would be prepared to fight for grander goals in more distant theatres—‘order wars’. The classic criticism that the border school throws at the order school is that they get sucked into ‘other people’s wars’. And the classic response of the order school is that order wars help prevent the emergence of border wars.

The nuclear-powered submarines are, unmistakably, vessels that would fit better as a contribution to order wars—the far rather than the near—and so stir once more that old polarisation.

Sam Roggeveen’s recent book, The echidna strategy, shows that we’re witnessing a revival of this debate. For Roggeveen, who is the director of the Lowy Institute’s international security program, Australia’s geographical location is a prized strategic asset—because distance complicates an aggressor’s calculations about use of force.

In normal years, Australians don’t think of their country as a spiky, indigestible monotreme. Echidnas spend most of their lives with their noses in the dirt. Their strategic horizon is low and short. By contrast, Australia is a strategic extrovert—not just because its closest strategic partners live far away, but because the global, regional and even neighbourhood order is set by the force balances along the Eurasian rimlands. When Albanese spoke in Washington of the AUKUS submarines as Australia’s contribution to ‘strategic equilibrium in the Indo-Pacific’, he was echoing that thought.

Existential threats to Australia aren’t merely those that unfold close to our borders, although the emphasis placed on deterrence by denial in the recent defence strategic review unhelpfully misleads on that point. Coercion can happen over longer ranges. And our strategic fate is entangled with the fates of our allies and partners: there is no world in which Australia bravely soldiers on as the last bastion of democracy when all others have fallen.

The second debate concerns the relative weighting of Asia and the Anglosphere in Australian policy settings. Some of the fiercest criticism of AUKUS has come from those who—in earlier years—invested heavily in Australia’s supposed ‘reorientation’ to Asia. Unsurprisingly, this debate is coloured by a wide range of factors that have almost nothing to do with submarines—such as the rise and fall of Asian-language tuition in Australian schools and universities, and the correlation between Anglophilia and being at the right of the Australian political spectrum.

In his National Press Club speech in March, former prime minister Paul Keating charged that ‘a contemporary Labor government [was] shunning security in Asia for security in and within the Anglosphere’. AUKUS tied Australia to the old, declining Anglospheric powers. In his book Engagement, published in 2000, Keating wrote of the US as ‘the big dog’ on the Asia–Pacific block. Clearly, he thinks that time has passed; he argues for the US to be a balancing power in the region, but believes that any attempt by Washington to cling to primacy would not have a happy ending.

This debate turns directly on the impact—real or imagined—of the AUKUS program on Australia’s relations with Asian countries. The opinions of the Southeast Asian states seem to be of particular concern, with Indonesian statements meriting exegetical analysis. Northeast Asian countries, such as Japan and South Korea—fellow US allies—are generally supportive.

And then there’s China itself, of course. What does AUKUS mean for Australia’s relations with China? Despite AUKUS, the bilateral relationship has stabilised. Former head of intelligence Peter Varghese says it’s not in Australia’s interest to thwart the rise of China. But that depends on what kind of China rises, doesn’t it?

Let’s move to the three debates over AUKUS itself. The debate over capacity has two foci—because AUKUS has both a purchase component and a build one. The purchase part of the program is scheduled to unfold during a time when America’s submarine-construction capacity has no spare headroom—US submarine yards are struggling to satisfy US domestic demand. There are questions too about the build component. Australia has never built a nuclear-powered submarine, or indeed anything of such complexity. And while the US has experience in different shipyards each producing parts of a submarine, the final assembly is usually done by the shipyard with the responsibility for installing the reactor unit.

These two difficulties are directly related: if we minimise the number of submarines purchased from the US, we increase our reliance on domestic production. Conversely, if we minimise the vessels built locally, we increase the disruptive effects on the US shipyards.

The fourth debate centres on the potential distortionary effect of AUKUS on other defence programs and on broader social spending. That concern is about more than simple opportunity costs. The sheer size of AUKUS means the program may prove to be a gravity well, sucking talented personnel and funding from other areas both within and beyond the defence portfolio. The defence budget will have to increase substantially for the country to be able to afford both the AUKUS submarine program and a viable surface fleet, air force and army. Former ministers differ on the degree of distortion. Kim Beazley still supports the program, arguing that the subs will be worth the wait and the cost. Alexander Downer supports getting nuclear-powered submarines but buying them all off the shelf.

Finally, the fifth debate touches on outcomes. Even the full eight submarines won’t be deployable simultaneously, so, really, we’d be looking at one or two at sea at any one time. That could still be a significant capability—provided submarines remain largely invisible and invulnerable during their deployments.

But there’s the rub: might the potency of the AUKUS submarines be compromised by the very technologies being explored in Pillar 2? Back in 2019, the US Defense Science Board observed that quantum sensing applications were ‘currently poised for mission use’. Such improvements, married to more capable artificial intelligence, might render the seas less opaque than they are now. There would be a degree of irony if the technologies of Pillar 2 ended up substantially negating the very submarines so expensively procured under Pillar 1.

Together, those five debates suggest the AUKUS program will be the subject of continuing controversy. Today’s bipartisanship is deceptive.
Rod Lyon is a senior fellow at ASPI. to the heart of Australian strategic policy
The U.S. Navy is beginning to integrate its industrial base with those of Australia and the United Kingdom, despite Congress not yet passing several measures to enable the trilateral submarine-building arrangement AUKUS.

AUKUS will bring about the sale of American submarines to Australia and the development of a new AUKUS-class design, but U.S. Navy Under Secretary Erik Raven recently told lawmakers the agreement goes beyond acquisition programs.

“It is about fundamentally changing and integrating three industrial bases in different parts of the world to produce maximum effect to serve our mutual national security efforts,” Raven said, noting such efforts are already underway.

Rear Adm. Scott Pappano, the program executive officer for strategic submarines, recently told Defense News at an additive manufacturing summit in Danville, Virginia, that the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program is tightly linked to its British counterpart, the Dreadnought program. Of particular importance is the bilateral collaboration in casting metal pieces for their common missile tubes.

Castings is among the weakest sectors in the U.S. submarine-industrial base, and something the U.S. Navy is actively trying to address by pouring money into vendors’ workforces and facilities, while also looking for new technologies — like additive manufacturing — to supplement traditional vendors’ output.

Pappano said his office, which also manages overall submarine-industrial base issues, has been looking at ways to use the U.K. castings sector and leverage the country’s castings suppliers.

Matt Sermon, the executive director at the strategic submarines office, said at the summit that Australian 3D-printing company AML3D would join a research and development effort at the Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence in Danville. The company’s machine uses a different printing technique than those already there, which could help the Navy advance its knowledge of the directed-energy deposition printing method and a nickel aluminum bronze alloy the service wants to use for printing submarine parts.

Sermon also noted a handful of Australian students had come through the Accelerated Training in Defense Manufacturing schoolhouse across the street from the center of excellence. This partnership was meant to be a train-the-trainer arrangement, meaning students will return to Australia where they will establish an accelerated training center to locally grow a submarine workforce in support of AUKUS.

U.S. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro attended the summit and said these efforts are critical for the service, adding that AUKUS is “incredibly important to our national security interests five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now.”

The secretary noted he’s “very comfortable” in the submarine-industrial base’s ramp-up ahead of a 40-year-long heavy workload, but said more must be done to bolster the workforce — something Australia and the U.K. can help with that.

“Being able to bring Australian skilled workers here to the United States to participate in U.S. companies, and to also go back to Australia and participate in future Australian companies that are also helping to maintain, repair and build future SSN-AUKUS type ships — that’s a win-win situation for our allies and partners working together to make this happen,” he told Defense News.

The wars raging in Europe and the Middle East remind us that conflicts erupt suddenly. It’s a point that some AUKUS critics have seized on to say Australia and its partners are not making sufficient progress to be battle-ready in the Indo-Pacific.

Certainly, we need urgent investment to increase our military preparedness. But this fact doesn’t reflect badly on AUKUS.

AUKUS is about a longer game. Sceptics who are already declaring the partnership a failure because it won’t deliver nuclear-propelled submarines for decades, and therefore will produce no military or strategic returns in a useful timeframe, are missing the point.

This was always about much more than filling a single or immediate capability gap. It is about giving us the best chance to deter aggression, now and in the future, and therefore prevent a war with the Indo-Pacific’s major strategic challenge, China.

Deterrence relies on having strong capabilities, but also on credibility. Intent matters and it was missing, for example, in Europe before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. AUKUS, even in its nascent stage, is the clearest signal that the three countries are resolved, and working together, to meet the China challenge.

With the right political and industrial support, and the necessary resources, AUKUS shows Beijing that we are collaborating on security-related technologies such as quantum, artificial intelligence and autonomous systems that will be decisive in the strategic competition defining our period and the decades ahead.

By turbocharging the advantages inherent in our market-based innovation culture, we will be best positioned to offset China’s massive technology push supported by military spending.

Even by the historical standards of geostrategic competition, this current intense period is marked by an unprecedented convergence of economics and security. Implemented effectively, AUKUS demonstrates the intent that underpins the capability and credibility necessary to deter war and deny Beijing any benefit from starting one.

Projecting this intent, Defence Minister Richard Marles met his US counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in Washington last week following Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s visit with President Joe Biden the week before, injecting further impetus and political commitment in the AUKUS process.

Demonstrating bipartisanship in the long-term national interest, Labor not only backed AUKUS but doubled down on the arrangement—with senior government figures including Marles supporting it at the party’s feisty national convention—as a generational, whole-of-nation endeavour.

AUKUS addresses the reality that a collective approach to security with trusted partners is a strategic advantage. No country, not even the US, is strong enough alone to confidently deter and compete with a power of China’s size.

Pentagon officials say that, for now, US submarine technology is better than Chinese technology, but the sheer numerical advantages of China’s maritime fleet demonstrate the old military saying that ‘quantity has a quality of its own’. This captures the strategy that Australia, the US and partners must follow and explains why we need AUKUS: comparative advantage is gained by working with and strengthening friends.

Leveraging each other’s aptitudes by working together puts us in a firmer position to tackle a strategic competitor in China. Fusing its civil and military sectors, China’s strategy openly seeks to monopolise key economic, defence and technological capabilities, including through a combination of intellectual property theft, coercion, interference, and unfair subsidies and investment arrangements. It is these practices and Beijing’s malign intent that motivated AUKUS.

The belated realisation that the world cannot be walled off into neat spheres and regions, due to the global nature of technology and economic supply chains (including in space and cyberspace), makes it significant that the AUKUS partners span the geography of the planet.

And while our open, market-based economic approaches confer advantages in spurring innovation and generating industrial energy, national resilience is strengthened when friendly nations work together and governments concurrently collaborate with industry and incentivise defence and technology industries to cooperate across nations.

There are of course legitimate challenges with AUKUS. They include real workforce and skill shortages, funding and infrastructure gaps, and regulatory restrictions. Each of these poses risks.

The answer, however, is not fatalism but government and industry leadership and a cultural shift to understand that our respective interests lie in collective power. As much as sceptics focus on political distractions in Washington, Albanese and Biden ensured AUKUS was a top priority at their recent meeting, noting progress across both pillars including the first graduation of Australian military personnel from the US Navy’s Nuclear Power School, the first Australian port visit by an American nuclear attack submarine, and the first demonstration of AUKUS artificial intelligence and autonomous capabilities. This was a clear signal of intent and resolve ahead of Albanese’s trip to China.

At the same time, a hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces showed the strength of bipartisan support for AUKUS, with members—including Republican Mike Gallagher and Democrat Joe Courtney—backing supplemental funding and export control reform.

Support doesn’t equal a blank cheque and reasonable questions are being asked in Washington—not just in Congress but in other parts of government—yet these aim to ensure that AUKUS is a success.

The expectation that the necessary domestic political reforms for such a tectonic shift as AUKUS would come easily were always unrealistic. Meanwhile, many of the criticisms about technology-transfer restrictions, difficulties building submarines in Adelaide or the potential for a war this decade are issues that would apply more acutely without a bold initiative like AUKUS.

This is about having a coherent, long-term strategy, at which many authoritarians excel because they are untroubled by the demands of democracy (from elections to protecting the rights of citizens). As a senior figure instrumental to AUKUS remarked at a Washington dialogue ASPI hosted with the Center for a New American Security earlier this year, this partnership is about ensuring the three allies are so intimate that we ‘finish each other’s sentences’ on matters of strategy and security.

There is still much work to be done to deter China and preserve our own sovereignty, but AUKUS is already making a difference, establishing a tight-knit, collective approach to defence policy and the key capabilities that will shape the rest of the century—not just today or tomorrow. sceptics are missing the point

In a report on the UK government’s Indo-Pacific policy, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee calls for the United Kingdom to propose to Australia and the United States that Japan, along with South Korea, be invited to participate in a AUKUS technical defence cooperation agreement focused on Strand B, or Pillar 2, activities.

AUKUS Pillar 2 designates cooperation in advanced capabilities in eight areas: autonomous undersea systems, quantum technologies, artificial intelligence, advanced cyber, hypersonic weapons, electronic warfare, innovation and information sharing. These lines of effort are critical in reinforcing the integrated deterrence capabilities of the US’s Indo-Pacific allies, including Japan.

Since Japan already has defence cooperation agreements for joint research and development with the US, the UK and Australia, there’s a foundation for AUKUS–Japan cooperation. But cooperation under these frameworks is project-based, with an emphasis on basic technologies rather than a list of priority capabilities. For example, most of the joint research with the US involves technologies directly related to equipment, such as next-generation amphibious technology and modular hybrid–electric vehicle systems. Based on this background, Japan could derive considerable benefit from participating in AUKUS Pillar 2.

The Japanese government stated in its 2022 national defence strategy that leveraging cutting-edge technologies for defence has become critical. Japan, which has high-tech capabilities, needs to cooperate with its allies and mobilise their capabilities to prepare for a long-term race for technological leadership. Because advantages in critical and emerging technologies covered by Pillar 2 of AUKUS will directly translate into military advantages, having access to these technologies will help deter potential adversaries in the Indo-Pacific.

Given Japan’s declining economic power, its future science and technology investment will likely also decline. Japan can acquire critical and emerging technologies more efficiently by closely collaborating with allies and partners. Cooperation through an expanded AUKUS Pillar 2 agreement would allow the participants to complement each other’s capability gaps and leverage economies of scale.

Most importantly, it will promote the internationalisation of Japan’s defence industry. For a long time, the Japanese defence industry’s only client was the Japanese Ministry of Defense and the Japan Self-Defense Forces. But they are undergoing major changes, including a relaxing of the restrictions on defence equipment transfers and promotion of exports. Strengthening ties between the defence industries of Japan and AUKUS members is a good opportunity to improve the Japanese industry’s competitiveness. In Japan, investment in critical and emerging technologies has been driven by civilian usage. In 2020, defence-related procurement from domestic manufacturers made up less than 1% of Japan’s total industrial production value.

The Japanese defence industry must become more internationally oriented. Although joint research and development takes time, the expanded AUKUS group can create an opportunity for the Japanese defence manufacturers to gain marketing and sales know-how from AUKUS partners.

But before it can join AUKUS, Japan will need to overcome a few challenges.

The most critical issue is the lack of an adequate security-clearance system. The Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, the only existing law on information security in Japan, limits the scope of information that can be classified as state secrets to four areas: diplomacy, defence, prevention of espionage, and prevention of terrorism. It does not cover information in economic and technological fields, and without a security-clearance system in these areas, Japanese manufacturers will struggle to access classified information in joint developments. Japan will need to develop a security-clearance system before it can join AUKUS.

In addition, Japan is striving to become a major arms exporter like the US and UK, so there are concerns about potential conflicts of interest. AUKUS Pillar 1 is reminiscent of Japan’s efforts to sell its conventionally powered submarines to Australia in 2015. But considering the lead time to acquire effective deterrence capabilities in the critical theatre of the Indo-Pacific, this is not the time for commercial clashes. Japan should accept the division of labour within the extended AUKUS framework.

Given the military-oriented nature of AUKUS, Japan joining AUKUS would signal to China that it is part of the ‘integrated deterrence’ network the US promotes. Considering that China, Japan and South Korea are working together to revitalise the dialogue channel through the Japan–China–Korea trilateral summit, policymakers in Tokyo may feel that the timing is inappropriate.

But the security environment in East Asia is more dire than ever, and technology implementation takes years, especially the critical and emerging technologies that define future victories. The US has also expressed a positive attitude towards the expansion of AUKUS Pillar 2 membership. Japan can’t afford to delay its efforts to strengthen its defence industrial base with these technologies. Now is the time to accelerate discussions on Japan’s participation in AUKUS. is the time for Japan to join AUKUS

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