The US and UK have reached an agreement to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs, not fitted with nuclear weapons) and well as to deepen cooperation in a number of key emerging defence technologies. The Australians will ditch their existing agreement with France’s Naval Group to build twelve large conventional subs (SSKs) in Australia based on a design from that company. The French are hopping mad, saying that is “a stab in the back” and that “trust has been betrayed” by Australia.
The plan is for eight SSNs to be (largely) built in Adelaide, South Australia, based on either the Royal Navy’s Astute-class or the larger US Navy Virginia-class. It is hoped the first sub might be delivered by around 2040 (what will the Indo-Pacific, indeed the world, look like by then?). From a story at the Sydney Morning Herald:
Australia will pursue long-range hypersonic missile technology and undersea drones while it builds a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines as part of a new military pact with the United States and Britain, a partnership China has labelled an “extremely irresponsible” threat to regional stability.
The announcement of the partnership, to be known as AUKUS, has sent shockwaves around the world as the three countries look to provide a more assertive military posture in the face of Beijing’s rapidly escalating militarisation of the South China Sea.
China’s foreign ministry said the agreement “seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race”.
…Australia will acquire long-range missiles – including Tomahawk cruise missiles on its Hobart-class destroyers, anti-ship missiles for the Super Hornet aircraft and hypersonic missiles that can travel at least five times the speed of sound – as well as unmanned underwater vehicles under the AUKUS pact…
The Canadian Forces can only dream of procuring such new, advanced and costly capabilities.
Plus another story at the Sydney Morning Herald on how the momentous pact came quickly to fruition:
It was a proposal 18 months in the making and a secret only a handful of people were trusted to keep for months. It would result in what the US has described as the “biggest strategic step Australia has taken in generations.” Morrison says it is now “probably the most important trilateral meeting Australia has had for the past 70 years”.
But note this UPPESTDATE:
And from an article at US Naval Institute News, note the other areas of cooperation mentioned at end of the quote:
Nuclear-powered submarines are largely regarded as the most survivable weapon against the Chinese fleet in the South China Sea, where U.S. Navy and Marine Corps officials expect a potential conflict with Beijing could occur. Nuclear-powered boats can travel much longer distances and operate underwater for longer periods of time than conventionally-powered submarines, making them ideal for the vast distances in the Indo-Pacific.
“Our first initiative as part of AUKUS is . . . a shared ambition to support Australia’s desire to acquire nuclear-powered submarines and we will launch a trilateral effort of 18 months, which will involve teams – technical and strategic and navy teams from all three countries – to identify the optimal pathway of delivery of this capability,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters today, noting that the U.S. has only ever shared this technology with the U.K. in 1958.
“We are adding – this is a unique set of circumstances – Australia to that deep partnership to explore the best ways for Australia to pursue nuclear-powered submarines. I do want to underscore that this will give Australia the capability for their submarines . . . to deploy for longer periods,” the official continued. “They’re quieter. They’re much more capable. They will allow us to sustain and improve deterrence across the Indo-Pacific. As part of that, we will work closely on efforts to ensure the best practices with respect to nuclear stewardship. I think you will see much deeper interoperability among our navies and our nuclear infrastructure people to ensure that our countries are working very closely together.”..
“Over the next 18 months, we will work together to seek to determine the best way forward to achieve this. This will include an intense examination of what we need to do to exercise our nuclear stewardship responsibilities here in Australia,” Morrison said during the press conference. “We intend to build these submarines in Adelaide, Australia in close cooperation with the United Kingdom and the United States. But let me be clear, Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability. And we will continue to meet all our nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”..
The new AUKUS security agreement also includes broader technology sharing between the three countries and ongoing dialogue between defense and diplomatic officials, the senior [US] administration official said.
The arrangement will include initiatives “to spur cooperation across many new and emerging arenas: cyber, AI – particularly applied AI – quantum technologies and some undersea capabilities as well. We’ll also work to sustain and deepen information and technology sharing and I think you’re going to see a much more dedicated effort to pursue integration of security and defense-related science, technology, and industrial bases and supply chains,” the official said. “This will be a sustained effort over many years to see how we can marry and merge some of our independent and individual capabilities into greater trilateral engagement as we go forward.”
Meanwhile the alarm is raised in Canada–at the Globe and Mail:
The three countries, along with Canada and New Zealand, already share foreign intelligence through the Five Eyes partnership. It was not immediately clear whether the new alliance would serve purely as a vehicle for Australia to engage in additional defence projects with the other countries, or if the pact would supplant some of the work of the Five Eyes [I would think there will be little direct impact on Five Eyes sharing–this pact is primarily defence cooperation and research oriented–see following section of this post]...
Eric Miller, a political and business consultant specializing in Canada-U.S. affairs, said the agreement represents an alliance between countries more willing than Canada to take on China. He said the pact could represent a “three eyes” subset of the larger partnership.
“Those who are in the world of ‘we need to directly confront China, and use all of our assets and resources to do that,’ – they are essentially moving forward,” he said…
The British Thin Pinstriped Line blog has these observations:
…Its unlikely that this will do much damage to 5-EYES – for example New Zealand would never have been approached as the acquisition of a nuclear submarine would be vastly beyond the budget, or needs, of the small but incredibly professional Royal New Zealand Navy.
Canada may be feeling slightly raw about this – particularly those with long memories who recall the 1980s and the doomed plan to acquire nuclear submarines for the RCN [see “Sovereignty, Security and the Canadian Nuclear Submarine Program” by @adam_lajeunesse]…
Given 5-EYEs is more than just an Indo-Pacific focus, it would be wrong to read much into this as a statement on the future of that Alliance. Rather it is better to see this as a subgrouping of a very successful international alliance…
In any event Canada has little serious in the way of naval or air assets to bring to bear to much effect in the Western Pacific–a post from 2020:
But there is a bigger picture in all this as to how Canada now fits with the the three members of AUKUS. A tweet of mine:
Then this tweet from Vice-Admiral (ret’d) Paul Maddison of the Royal Canadian Navy, subsequently our High Commissioner to Australia:
A friend well-versed in defence matters and international affairs has this reaction, along similar lines:
Since World War II, Australia has always made it a strategic priority to nurture its alliance with the USA, which they perceive as having saved them when the UK abandoned them during that war (that’s their “narrative”). The nuclear submarines, which are part of the very inner circle of defence intimacy (exceeded only by nuclear weapons) help cement that and if the good old, now Global, Britain wants in, so much the better.
What may be emerging is a Three Eyes alliance with Canada and New Zealand relegated to a peripheral, symbolic Five Eyes arrangement to keep the club intact for larger intelligence and foreign policy calculations.
Bottom line – serious countries are getting serious. Suppliers of virtuous advice…may be invited to sit in a corner, where their incoherent mumblings won’t disturb the adults.
Ouch! And some final thoughts of mine, further to the earlier post of mine listed above:
One thing Canada usefully could do for our allies is very publicly to re-assert our focus on anti-submarine warfare (ASW) in the North Atlantic for NATO vs Russian subs with cruise missiles, in cooperation with the renewed US 2nd Fleet at Norfolk, Virginia which has this mission (see this post: “Subs and Russian Nuclear Weapons Doctrine, Note Cruise Missiles“). All our frigates save three should be based in Atlantic Canada and some RCAF CP-140 maritime patrol planes should be permanently based in Newfoundland for greater range into the ocean (our eastern ones are now at Nova Scotia). The US Navy should have regular, agreed operational access to Canadian bases and ports (as the USN now has in Australia and Norway), as should USN P-8A maritime patrol planes–if the US wants such sea/air access on our territory.
But for some reason our government and and the RCN/RCAF do almost nothing to highlight the North Atlantic ASW role, preferring to stress drug busting in Caribbean and enforcing UN sanctions off North Korea. Very odd, especially as both Norway and the UK are putting serious public emphasis on their (sometimes joint) contribution to that ASW role and on their cooperation in it with US.
Something like the above would hardly be as striking as AUKUS but at least it would offer something of real utility for allies and also public backing for them.
UPDATE: The CCP’s Global Times mouthpiece, in top Wolf Warrior mode, unleashes the hit “The Return of the Running Dogs”:
Swell folks, those Chicoms.
UPPERDATE: As was suggested above in this post–for government officials to say such things as these suggests a whole lot of dissatisfaction with PM Trudeau’s government:
Three officials, representing Canada’s foreign affairs, intelligence and defence departments, told The Globe and Mail that Ottawa was not consulted about the pact, and had no idea the trilateral security announcement was coming until it was made on Wednesday by U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The defence ministers from the U.K. and Australia reached out to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to inform him of the decision shortly before the late-afternoon announcement. Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau received a call from his Australian counterpart. Daniel Minden, a spokesperson for Mr. Sajjan, said Ottawa had been kept in the loop on talks between the countries.
One of the Canadian officials referred to the pact as the new “Three Eyes” and said it’s clear that Canada’s closest allies consider Ottawa to be a “weak sister” when it comes to standing up to China. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the officials because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly…
We are indeed a “weak sister”. Plus on same story a re-tweet from former high-level Liberal insider Warren Kinsella, who has turned violently against PM Trudeau: