SAN DIEGO — Rishi Sunak joined Joe Biden and Australian premier Anthony Albanese at a submarine base in California to hail a new defense megadeal between the three nations.
The leaders gathered as the latest stage of their AUKUS (Australian, U.K., U.S) defense pact saw the trio commit Monday to a submarine-building deal that will bring a British-designed and built sub to Canberra, using shared U.S. technology, and an increased footprint for all three in the Pacific.
While the leaders were reluctant to state publicly that the move is a direct response to growing assertiveness by China, a senior British military official told POLITICO: “I can’t believe for a minute that Beijing is sitting there thinking: ‘AUKUS is great, carry on.’”
The AUKUS deal was first signed between the three nations 18 months ago, as Washington, D.C. sought to ramp up its capacity in the Indo-Pacific region.
Speaking with the USS Michigan as a backdrop under blue skies, Sunak said: “We represent three allies who have stood shoulder to shoulder together for more than a century.
“Three peoples who have shed blood together in defense of our shared values. And three democracies that are coming together again to fulfil the higher purpose of maintaining freedom, peace and security now and for generations to come.”
Biden told the audience of around 150 invited dignitaries the deal would bring significant numbers of jobs to all three countries: “The United States could not think of two better friends to stand with,” he told Sunak and Albanese. “I am proud to be your shipmate.”
In the latest phase of the program, Britain will design and build a new nuclear-propelled sub based on its Astute Class program, with work being carried out in Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria and in Derby, by BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce. The ships will not be in action until the 2040s, however, and until then the Australians will both host U.S subs in its ports and later take ownership of three of American Virginia-class subs.
The new subs will be conventionally armed but nuclear-propelled and will be known as Submersible Ship Nuclear (SSN)-AUKUS submarines, it was announced.
Thousands of jobs are expected to be created in the north and midlands of England as a result of the deal, areas the Conservatives need to consolidate ahead of the next general election.
The pact will see a rare incidence of the U.S. sharing military technology, and will involve crew from all three navies embedded on the new subs, with the British and Americans helping to train the Australians. The Royal Navy is due to deploy subs missions to Australia from 2027.
The increased presence in the Indo-Pacific region is underlined in the U.K. government’s Integrated Review Refresh, its updated defense strategy, also published Monday. The British government sees the “tilt” toward the Indo-Pacific region as crucial to embedding the U.K. as Washington’s closest ally post Brexit.