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Biden to give nuclear sub technology to Australia as China gets aggressive in the Pacific

Australian submarine HMAS Rankin (Hull 6). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman James R. Evans)
September 15, 2021

The United States, working in conjunction with the United Kingdom, will begin sharing the secrets of their nuclear propulsion technology with Australia. The move, which will focus primarily on Australia’s submarine technology, comes as China has sought to bolster its territorial claims in the Pacific.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to transfer nuclear submarine propulsion technology to Australia.

A senior administration official previewed the trilateral move in a phone call on background with American Military News and other news outlets on Wednesday morning.

“This will give Australia the capability for their submarines to basically deploy for longer periods,” the official said of the nuclear propulsion systems. “They’re quieter, they’re much more capable, they will allow

Nuclear propulsion would potentially confer upon Australia’s submarine fleet, the ability to operate in a stealthier fashion, for longer periods of time.”

The only country the U.S. has previously shared nuclear propulsion technology with was the U.K. itself in 1958. No similar technology-sharing efforts have occurred between the U.S. and other countries in the ensuing 63 years.

“There are no better allies than the United Kingdom and Australia,” the senior administration official said. “This is about strengthening our alliances and working together to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

The historic move comes as China has rapidly grown its Navy in recent years and has more aggressively asserted its territorial claims in the Pacific. China often acts as though it controls portions of the South China Sea. China has also increasingly alluded to invading Taiwan, an island that governs itself independently but that China claims as part of its sovereign territory.

The senior administration official said the U.S. move to share nuclear propulsion technology with Australia “will allow us to sustain and to improve deterrence across the Indo-Pacific” though he later said the new move is “not aimed at any one country.”

The senior administration official also said that while the U.S. and U.K. would share nuclear propulsion with Australia, the country is not pursuing its own nuclear weapons.

“I do want to underscore that the Biden administration remains deeply committed to American leadership in [nuclear] non-proliferation,” the official said. “This is nuclear propulsion. Australia has no intention of pursuing nuclear weapons.”

On Wednesday, ahead of an official joint announcement by the U.S., U.K. and Australia, Australia’s ABC News reported Australia had scrapped a $90 billion order for 12 French-designed submarines, to instead pursue key American and British technologies in the next generation of its submarine force.

In a joint Thursday afternoon press conference, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the plan to deliver Australia a nuclear-powered submarine will be the first component of a renewed trilateral alliance between the U.S., U.K. and Australia, known as “AUKUS.” AUKUS is an abbreviation of all three countries’ names.

“We all recognize the imperative to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term,” Biden said. “We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve because the future of each of our nations and indeed the world depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific.”