As Australia’s deadline for choosing a nuclear submarine provider draws nearer, warnings have emerged from the United States which could spell trouble.
Key United States senators have voiced their doubts about the AUKUS submarine agreement, telling President Joe Biden the AUKUS agreement could become a “zero-sum game” and put American military power at risk.
A Defence report will be released in the coming months that will outline the pathway for Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, which will be sourced from either the US or the United Kingdom.
But in a letter to the President leaked online, Democrats and Republicans joined forces to call for a “sober assessment” of the AUKUS deal and warned against selling their submarines to Australia.
However Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he remains “ very positive”.
He said the optimal pathway had yet to be decided, but Australia was engaging “very closely” and the national security committee was meeting “almost weekly” as the deadline looms.
“We’re very confident that (AUKUS) is in the interests of Australia, but also in the interests of the United States and the United Kingdom,” he said.
Defence Minister Richard Marles said the AUKUS partnership was trilaterally beneficial.
“There really is a shared sense of mission between the US and UK and Australia in seeing Australia acquire this capability, but there are lots of challenges and there’s no doubt about the pressure this places on the industrial base of the US and also the UK,” he said.
“We’re very aware of it, that’s why it’s so important that Australia develops its own industrial capability to build nuclear powered submarines, which we will do in Adelaide.”
Of the options Australia is considering, the US could sell two newly built Virginia-class submarines to Australia by 2030 – at least a decade before any such vessels could be built domestically.
But in their letter to President Biden, senators Jack Reed and James Inhofe said despite the US’ goal of building two boats a year, only 1.2 submarines had been delivered on average per year in the last five years.
They warned the nation’s submarine industrial base was falling behind and voiced their concern about the ability of the US to support the desired AUKUS nuclear submarine “end state”.
Mr Marles said the government was focused on upskilling industry at home.
“We will need to develop that capability in order to contribute to the industrial base of the three countries; the US, the UK and ourselves, and we are doing that at pace right now,” he said.