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Biden, UK and Australian prime ministers tout deal on nuclear-powered subs

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(SAN DIEGO) — With a Virginia-class submarine as his backdrop, President Joe Biden on Monday, along with the prime ministers of Australia and the United Kingdom, outlined a multi-phase plan to deliver state-of-the-art, nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, as part of the what’s called the AUKUS partnership to help counter China.

“AUKUS. It’s an unusual name, AUKUS, but it’s a powerful entity. You know, when our country’s first announced AUKUS 18 months ago, I’m not at all sure that anyone believed that how much progress we’d be able to make together and how quickly we’d accomplish it,” Biden said at a U.S. Navy base in San Diego, using the acronym for the three countries combined.

The partnership was established in 2021 with the goal of providing Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, which can travel farther and stay under water for longer than other subs.

The announcement appears to be one the administration’s most direct efforts to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific. In his remarks, the president underscored the importance of AUKUS to ensuring the Indo-Pacific remains “free and open.”

“Our unprecedented trilateral cooperation, I believe, is testament to the strength of the long-standing ties that united us and to our shared commitment of ensuring the Indo-Pacific remains free and open, prosperous and secure, defined by opportunity for all. A shared commitment to create a future rooted in our common values. That’s the objective the United States shares not only with the UK and Australia, it’s shared by our friends in the region,” Biden said.

The president stressed throughout his remarks that the subs are nuclear-powered, and will not contain nuclear weapons, and that the technology, while complicated, is completely safe.

“I want to be clear to everyone from the outset. Right off the bat, so there’s no confusion or misunderstanding on this critical point. These subs are powered, not nuclear-armed subs, they’re nuclear-powered, not nuclear-armed. Australia’s a proud non-nuclear weapon state and is committed to stay that way. These boats will not have any nuclear weapons of any kind on them. Each of us standing here today, representing the United States, Australia and Great Britain is deeply committed to strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime,” Biden said.

Biden laid out the broad strokes of the three-phases plan, starting with the actions getting underway this year to begin to train Australian personnel on the nuclear subs, which Biden said requires “years of training to master.”

“Beginning this year, Australian personnel will embed with U.S. and U.K. crews on boats and a basis in our schools and our shipyards. We’ll also begin to increase our port visits to Australia. In fact, as we speak, the nuclear-powered sub, USS Asheville, is making a port call in Perth as we speak,” he said. “And later this decade, we’ll also be establishing a rotational presence of U.S. and U.K. nuclear-powered subs in Australia. to help develop the workforce Australia is gonna need to build and maintain its fleet.”

“And with the support and approval of Congress, beginning in the early 2030s, the United States will sell three Virginia-class submarines to Australia with the potential to sell up to two more if needed, jumpstarting their undersea capability and decade earlier than many predicted. But the ultimate goal isn’t just selling subs in Australia, it’s developing something new together. We’re calling it the SSN AUKUS. This new state-of-the-art, conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarine that will work, that will combine U.S. submarine — U.K. submarine technology and design with American technology,” he added.

In his remarks following the president, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese underscored just how significant it is that the U.S. is partnering with them on nuclear-powered subs, and sharing the propulsion technology.

“This is the first time in 65 years and only the second time in history that the United States has shared its nuclear propulsion technology, and we thank you for it,” Albanese said to Biden.

Biden highlighted the agreement would also be positive for workers in all three countries, as they each worked to ramp up production and operation of the subs.

“This partnership is going to mean an awful lot for good paying jobs for all workers in our countries, including a lot of union jobs,” Biden said.

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the partnership “the most significant multilateral defense partnership in generations.”

“Joe, Anthony, we represent three allies who have stood shoulder to shoulder together for more than a century. Three peoples who have shed blood together in defense of our shared values and three democracies that are coming together again, to fulfill that higher purpose of maintaining freedom, peace and security now and for generations to come,” Sunak said in his closing remarks.

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