Britain will double its number of hunter-killer submarines under the AUKUS agreement with the US and Australia to counter the growing threat posed by China in the Indo-Pacific region.
Leaders of the three allies unveiled details of the plan at a summit in California on Monday with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailing the deal as “the most important multilateral defense partnership in generations.” US President Joe Biden said the deal puts all three countries “in the strongest possible position”.
The Aukus agreement will put the new boats into operation in the late 2030s after a construction phase that will create thousands of jobs in UK shipyards. The ships will be built using common US technology and will enable the Australian Navy to build its first fleet of the elite nuclear-powered SSN-AUKUS fleet.
The UK submarines will be built primarily by BAE Systems in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria and Rolls-Royce and will replace the Royal Navy’s Astute class boats when they are commissioned.
The Australian boats will be built in South Australia, using some UK-made components, and will enter service in the early 2040s. Mr Sunak, US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met in San Diego to announce the next phase of the Aukus program on Monday.
Under the agreement, Australia will buy US Virginia-class submarines in the 2030s as a stopgap measure until the new vessels are commissioned. The new submarines will also include American technologies.
The Aukus partnership was announced in 2021 as Australia sought to respond to China’s assertive actions in the Pacific.
The latest round comes as the UK publishes its updated integrated review of foreign and security policy, which highlights China’s “more aggressive stance”.
The deal caused a diplomatic rift with France, which had hoped to supply diesel-powered submarines to the Canberra government.
The extra £5bn for defense announced by Sunak will partly help develop the next phase of the Aukus programme.
This will be followed by sustained funding over the next decade and will build on the £2 billion invested in our Dreadnought class submarine program last year.
Mr. Sunak said: “AUS matches our ongoing commitment to freedom and democracy with the most advanced military, scientific and technological capabilities,” he said.
“For the first time, this will mean that three submarine fleets will work together in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, keeping our oceans free, open and prosperous for decades to come.”
Defense Minister Ben Wallace said. “This is an important step forward for our three countries as we work together to contribute to security in the Indo-Pacific and around the world.
“Supporting thousands of jobs across the UK, many in the North West of England, these efforts will boost our country’s prosperity and demonstrate the strength of British industry to our allies and partners.”
The Aukus program will lead to closer cooperation between the three nations.
From 2023, Australian military and civilian personnel will engage with the US Navy and Royal Navy, as well as at industrial bases in both countries, to accelerate the training of Australian personnel.
The US plans to increase port visits by nuclear-powered submarines to Australia this year, and the UK will increase visits in 2026.
From 2027, UK and US boats could be “forward-rotating” to Australia to help develop training and expertise.
The three countries insisted the deal does not increase the risk of nuclear proliferation.
The ships will carry conventional weapons and the nuclear reactors will be sealed and will not require refueling during their lifetime.