Australia to Buy Up to Five U.S. Nuclear Submarines As Part of AUKUS

Australia is expected to buy up to five U.S. Virginia class nuclear submarines in the 2030s as part of the AUKUS pact between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. The alliance hopes the deal would present a new challenge to China. AUKUS will have multiple stages with at least one U.S. submarine visiting Australian waters in the coming years and end in the late 2030s with a new class of submarines being built with British designs and American technology. Biden will host British Prime Minister Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Albanese on Monday to draw a roadmap for provision of the nuclear-powered submarines and other high-tech weaponry to Australia.

The three Western allies are looking to counter China’s military buildup, pressure on Taiwan and increasing military deployments in the contested South China Sea.

After annual port visit by U.S. submarines, Washington is expected to forward deploy some submarines in Western Australia by around 2027.

In the early 2030’s, Australia would buy three Virginia-class submarines, with an option to buy two more.

Australia has an existing fleet of six conventionally powered Collins-class submarines, which will have their service life extended to 2036. Nuclear submarines can stay underwater for longer than conventional ones and are harder to detect.

Under the initial AUKUS deal announced in 2021, Washington and London agreed to provide Canberra with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear submarines as part of joint efforts to counter the increasing threat posed by China in the Indo-Pacific region.

As part of the submarine deal, over the next five years, Australian workers will visit U.S. submarine shipyards to observe and train. This training will benefit U.S. submarine production as well, as there is currently a labor shortage for shipyard workers the U.S. needs to build its submarines.

The U.S. Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan released last year forecast submarines being produced at a rate of 1.76 to 2.24 per year and forecast the fleet grow to between 60 to 69 nuclear attack submarines by 2052.

General Dynamics, which makes Virginia-class submarines, has 17 of them in its current backlog delivering through 2032.

To date no party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty other than the five countries the treaty recognizes as weapons states – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France – has nuclear submarines.

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