AUKUS' final blueprint marks an 'astonishing step forward' for the West that puts our adversaries on notice
March 15, 2023
Australian sovereignty was strengthened immeasurably this week, and we have emerged as a different nation: more confident; more determined and far more capable.
San Diego, California, was the appropriate backdrop for this historic announcement by the trilateral AUKUS partners, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Since the city's earliest days as a Spanish colonial military fort, the city has played a crucial role in the security of the Pacific.
It emerged as a primary point for American national security during World War Two for the US Navy in particular, and the training of US Marines for the war against Japan.
But in the post-war era, San Diego came not only to supply military needs and logistical framework, but also the intellectual underpinning for the science and technology that permitted the Americans to challenge the Soviets.
The founding of the University of California at San Diego in 1956 embodies this.
The university’s researchers played a pivotal role in underpinning the response to the needs of the US military and industry.
No surprise then that Australian universities have welcomed AUKUS so enthusiastically.
And there was another element in San Diego’s evolution.
Consequent upon the growth in defence technology came extraordinary expansion in venture capital.
Years ago, during a visit to San Diego with a delegation from the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue, I remember walking along a corridor at one of the tech companies in the area.
The walls were lined, from beginning to end, with the framed patents and trademarks which the company had secured over the years.
Each document was an acknowledgement of another step forward in innovation.
It is this cutting-edge technology in the maritime domain that Australia has now embraced with the Virginia-Class and Astute-Class submarines.
The conventionally-armed and nuclear-powered boats represent an astonishing step forward in the guarantee, not only of Australia’s future security, but to the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific.
The signal that it sends to potential adversaries is clear and unmistakable.
We are prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure our sovereignty, and will do it with close partners and allies using the most advanced technology available anywhere on the globe.
The US has only ever agreed to pass its nuclear submarine technology to an ally once before.
This was in 1958, when the “special relationship” between Britain and the US saw the Americans pass their nuclear submarine technology to the Royal Navy.
What the Biden administration has agreed to do, along with complementary decisions by Rishi Sunak’s government in London, is to turn Australia into the seventh nation which will be able to deploy nuclear-propelled submarines.
True, the projected cost of Australia’s submarine venture is an eye-watering $368 billion, and this will no doubt increase.
The defence budget will be under enormous pressure, and $3 billion in offsets has already been announced.
But the fact the costs have been announced immediately is a very healthy sign of the government’s confidence that the Australian people have reached a conclusion about the continuing aggression of potential adversaries and the existential need for a response.
That the Opposition in Canberra, through Shadow Defence Minister Andrew Hastie, has endorsed the AUKUS announcement is of critical significance.
The ramifications of the decision extend well beyond national security.
Significantly, the reality of the deal will have an enormous impact on Australian industry.
South Australia and Western Australia will benefit greatly, given the need for a nuclear framework that can sustain American, British and Australian boats in the waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Moreover, if Port Kembla becomes a submarine base, as appears likely, there will be an enormous and wide-ranging impact on Wollongong and the Illawarra.
This will be more than just cutting and replacing of steel.
The challenges will overwhelmingly be in guaranteeing the technology that keeps the nuclear-powered submarines at the forefront of the Australian defence posture.
There is no question that the AUKUS determinations will be quietly welcomed in our neighbourhood.
The nations of ASEAN may not applaud publicly, but they will certainly be reassured by the continuing presence of American, British and Australian submarines on patrol in the region.
The reality for potential adversaries is this.
If an adversary knows that a nuclear-powered boat is in the water, positioned to defend, then that adversary must consider that additional risk when preparing for aggression.
These boats represent unquestionable deterrence.
Australian submarine history dates back to the Great War with the arrival of the AE1 and AE2.
Oberon-Class submarines in the 1960s continued this tradition, which has been taken up this century by Collins-Class boats.
UKUS creates an additional dimension to Australia's capacity to contribute to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Albanese Government, supported by the Opposition, has done well.
Stephen Loosley is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, and the Deputy Chair of Thales Australia and New Zealand.