The United States is in talks to build Australia its first nuclear-powered submarines by the mid-2030s to respond to China’s growing military.
The proposed plan, yet to be formally approved, is to provide Australia with an initial fleet while longer-term efforts will give Australia the capability to produce its own, Wall Street Journal exclusively revealed on Saturday, citing “Western officials”.
It reported the arrangement had been discussed among senior officials from the US, Australia and UK, and a final decision would be expected in March.
However, the publication noted to carry out the plan billions of dollars would need to be spent to expand US submarine-production capacity and Australia would be expected to contribute financially.
The office of Australian Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles would not explicitly confirm the proposed arrangement to news.com.au but emphasised urgency in getting nuclear-powered subs.
“We are still doing the consultations to set out the optimal pathway for Australia to acquire the capability,” a spokeswoman said.
“As the Deputy Prime Minister has said, it is important to get the capability as soon as we can.”
Former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison announced a landmark deal with the US and UK in September last year – an alliance called AUKUS – to help Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
“The relatively benign environment we have enjoyed in many decades in our region is behind us,” Mr Morrison said speaking to media after a joint press conference with US President Joe Biden and then-UK prime minister Boris Johnson.
He said the partnership would “enable Australia to protect our national security interests to keep Australians safe and to work with our partners across the region to achieve the stability and security of our region”.
The plan was for the submarines to be built in Adelaide in close co-operation with the US and UK.
The announcement came after Australia’s decision to scrap a $90 billion contract with France to build 12 attack-class submarines, infuriating the country.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese revealed in June the government had reached a settlement with French shipbuilder Naval Group over the axed contract.
He said Australia would pay the Naval Group $555 million euros ($AUD 830 million), bringing the total cost of the dumped policy to $3.4 billion.
Later that same month, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told a press conference Australia’s new fleet of submarines would not have any nuclear capability, just nuclear propulsion.
It was in response to concerns expressed by Malaysia about the AUKUS defence pact.
Earlier this month Mr Marles met with French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu where they spoke of “moving forward” after a breakdown in relations between the two countries last year.
“Like all friendships, it has experienced ups and downs,” Mr Lecornu said.
Originally published as US in talks to build Australia’s first nuclear-powered submarines
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