Anthony Albanese to Negotiate with Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak on AUKUS Defense Pact

Key points
  • AUKUS will be Australia’s largest defense project.
  • Negotiations will be held in San Diego.
  • The US Pacific Fleet is based in San Diego.

US President Joe Biden will host the leaders of Australia and the United Kingdom in San Diego next week to chart the way forward to supply Australia with nuclear submarines and other high-tech weapons, people familiar with the plans said.

British Prime Minister spokesperson Rishi Sunak said he will visit the United States on Monday to meet with Mr. Biden and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to negotiate the AUKUS defense deal.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, along with Mr. Biden and Mr. Sunak, is expected to announce Australia’s path to receive nuclear submarines at San Diego Tuesday (AEDT). He will then hold bilateral meetings with both.

“This is a joint arrangement between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom,” he told reporters on Thursday during a visit to India.

“We are great friends. We have stood side by side in times of peace and conflict for more than a century.”

What’s on the cards?

San Diego is home to the US Pacific Fleet, and a source familiar with the plans told Reuters that the tripartite summit could include a visit to a submarine.

AUKUS will be Australia’s largest defense project and offers job opportunities in all three countries, but it remains unclear whether it will involve a US-designed or UK-designed submarine or a combination, or when the vessels will enter service.

Australia will have to rely heavily on America for nuclear submarine crews if it buys a few US Virginia-class ships, the defense expert said.

According to media reports, up to five US submarines will be the initial part of a landmark defense agreement between the US, UK and Australia under the AUKUS partnership.

Despite an 18-month consultation period since the first announcement of AUKUS, questions remain about the US’s strict restrictions on sharing technology needed for the project.

Problems of artificial intelligence and hypersonic weapons

This is of particular concern in relation to its so-called second component related to advanced technology programs such as artificial intelligence and hypersonic weapons.

Australian National University professor John Blacksland says the speculation “challenges” his understanding of Australia’s possibilities.

US nuclear submarine joins joint exercise

USS Columbus, an American nuclear submarine, during a joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States in 2014. Planned forward deployment of American nuclear submarines in Australia by 2027. Source: AARP / Yonhap

“I doubt what is being said because it has long been recognized that it is very difficult for us to operate American submarines because they represent a quantum leap in size and crew requirements,” he told AAP.

He said having a large proportion of Americans in the crew would force Australia to rely on the US for an extended period of time.

“We will be dependent on American crewing for a very long time,” Professor Blacksland said. Is this what we want?

Australia retains ‘absolute sovereignty’

This is on top of an already overburdened US manufacturing system. “I am skeptical because the American production line is busy, so we may not have any capacity for many years,” he added.

The Prime Minister rejected the suggestion that Australia would lose sovereignty by becoming dependent on the US.

“Australia will retain our absolute sovereignty, 100 percent,” he said. “This is something that all of our partners respect as well.”

South Australian Prime Minister Peter Malinauskas said he wants Adelaide submarine construction to start as soon as possible as Australia can support US manufacturing capacity to get its fleet faster.

“We all recognize that there is a capacity gap that needs to be filled, especially given the geopolitical uncertainty that exists in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.

“Nuclear submarines are the most complex machines ever built in human history. They are more complex than the space shuttle.

“But we want it to happen as soon as possible.”

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham did not draw attention to the speculation, but said it was “important for Australia to have early access to nuclear submarines.”

“And also the ability to build, maintain and operate them as quickly as possible,” he told AAP.

Senator Birmingham said all three countries needed to work together to improve defense and industrial capabilities.

“This is not a commercial purchase, this is a three-way partnership to build more and have more submarines to operate in the future,” he said.

He said it was also important for the government to work to eliminate any red tape that hinders the smooth exchange of technology and skills between the three countries.

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