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Pentagon asks Congress to move nuclear submarines to Australia

The ballistic missile submarine USS Maine pulls into Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton after returning from a strategic deterrent patrol in September 2012. Just one of America's 14 Ohio-class submarines, like the USS Maine, could deliver explosive power nearly 10 times that of all the bombs dropped in World War II. (Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ahron Arendes/U.S. Navy/TNS)
May 22, 2023

The U.S. Department of Defense has submitted three legislative proposals to Congress requesting authorization for the transfer of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia under the AUKUS agreement with the U.K.

The proposals, submitted on May 2 and made public on Tuesday, seek approval for the sale of two Virginia-class submarines to Australia, according to Defense News. The proposals also aim to enable the training of Australian individuals for submarine-related work and permit Canberra to invest in the U.S. submarine industrial base.

“The Department of Defense’s legislative proposals are the latest example of President [Joe] Biden’s commitment to fulfilling the AUKUS agreement,” said Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut, the Democrat leader on the sea power panel of the Armed Services Committee.

“Importantly, the proposals spell out a clear path forward to facilitate the transfer of Virginia-class submarines to Australia while ensuring we have the necessary authorities to accept the Australian Government’s investments to enhance our submarine industrial base capacity and provide training for Australian personnel,” he added.

The AUKUS agreement between the U.S., U.K. and Australia includes provisions for Australia to purchase a minimum of three and up to five Virginia-class submarines in the 2030s as part of the agreement’s second phase. The U.S. Department of Defense has submitted a proposal to Congress, seeking approval for the sale of two submarines as an initial step.

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The proposal does not specify a deadline for the transfers or the specific vessels to be transferred, allowing for flexibility in accordance with Australia’s readiness to operate the submarines. The Pentagon argues that this flexibility is necessary given the need to develop Australia’s submarine industrial base, including training and shipyard infrastructure.

In addition to the submarine transfers, the Department of Defense has proposed a second legislative measure that would authorize the direct export of U.S. defense services to Australia’s private sector specifically for the purpose of training its own submarine workers. The Pentagon emphasizes the importance of this development in ensuring that Australia is prepared to own and operate the submarines while adhering to non-proliferation standards and bolstering the global non-proliferation regime.

Furthermore, the Department of Defense is seeking congressional permission to accept Australian payments aimed at strengthening the U.S. submarine industrial base. Australia has offered to make investments in the U.S. submarine industrial base, although the specific amount remains undisclosed. These investments would contribute to the enhancement of the U.S. submarine industry and its capabilities.

The Pentagon hopes that these proposals, if included in the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, will gain congressional approval and pave the way for the transfer of submarines to Australia, the training of Australian submarine workers, and the reinforcement of the U.S. submarine industrial base through Australian investments.