Australia will command a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines within the next three decades under a fast-tracked plan that will cost up to $368 billion.
Canberra will acquire three US Virginia-class nuclear submarines as a stop-gap from 2033 before a new-generation hybrid sub comes into production in a bid to deter Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific.
There is then the option to buy two more of the US boats in order to protect against schedule blowouts.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the agreement was the single biggest investment in Australia’s defence capability and would ensure the nation’s security for decades to come as part of the AUKUS alliance.
“What the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia hold in common is more fundamental and more universal than our shared histories,” he said as he announced the plan at Point Loma naval base in San Diego.
“We are bound, above all, by our belief in a world … where peace, stability and security ensure greater prosperity and a greater measure of fairness for all.”
US President Joe Biden said the Indo-Pacific would be where the three nations’ futures were written.
“Forging this new partnership, we’re showing again how democracies can deliver our own security and prosperity and not just for us but for the entire world,” he said.
The new-generation submarines will be based on the British Astute class but integrated with an American weapons system and technology.
“Top-of-the-line submarines are the vanguard of US naval power,” Mr Biden said.
“We’re putting ourselves in the strongest possible position to navigate the challenges of today and tomorrow, together.”
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak added the three navies would operate and maintain the boats together.
“For the first time ever, it will mean three fleets of submarines working together across both the Atlantic and Pacific, keeping our oceans free, open and prosperous for decades to come,” he said.
The cost to taxpayers of the trilateral deal will come in at an eye-watering $268-$368 billion over the coming three decades.
The plan will take $9b from the budget’s bottom line across the next four years and $50-58b within a decade.
However the initial outlay won’t add to Australia’s deficit as $6b will be redirected from existing provisions for the cancelled French submarine contract and $3b in defence department funds will be set aside.
An American submarine for Australia will roll off the production line every three years before the new AUKUS class will be built at a similar rate from 2042. The sale will need approval from the US Congress.
Defence Minister Richard Marles says he’s confident there will be bipartisan support from Washington.
“The US alliance has thrived under successive administrations and governments in Australia since the Second World War,” he said.
“Across the political spectrum, there is complete support for the relationship with Australia and the AUKUS arrangements. So we enter this with a high degree of confidence.”
The UK will construct and operate the first AUKUS submarine from the late 2030s, allowing any kinks to be ironed out before Australia gets behind the periscope.
“The prototyping risk is being assumed by the UK,” Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy said.
“We’ve de-risked this and will continue to de-risk this project.”
Four American nuclear-powered submarines and one UK vessel will begin rotating through Western Australian naval bases from as early as 2027 to boost Australia’s ability to operate its own vessels in the 2030s and 2040s.
Increased visits from US and UK nuclear submarines will also begin from next year.
Shipbuilders in Adelaide and Western Australia will join those in America and Britain in constructing the new submarines, with shipyard upgrades to begin this year.
Radioactive waste will be managed in Australia, which has drawn environmental protests.
(Australian Associated Press)