Australia gets nuclear-powered subs in AUKUS deal


Briefly: On Monday the leaders of Australia, the UK, and the US revealed further details of the AUKUS deal, a 2021 trilateral tech and security pact that will enable Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. 

The deal has three stages

  1. The UK and US will send a rotational force of submarines to Australia from 2027 
  2. The US will sell Australia at least three Virginia-class submarines in the 2030s, and
  3. The partners will build and deploy the SSN Aukus in the 2040s, a new class of nuclear-powered submarine rigged out with both UK and US tech.

What’s so good about nuclear-powered subs? Mechanically, they don’t need to refuel or resurface. So hiding underwater for lengthy stretches, they can theoretically be anywhere, anytime. And this forces adversaries to think twice.

And the cons? Because we’re talking about submarines and not Subarus, the estimated price tag for Canberra is $245B (USD) over 30 years. 

The initial 2021 AUKUS announcement also irked some of Australia’s neighbours who felt ambushed and uneasy about the deal (reactions seem more muted this time around).

Meanwhile, China says AUKUS is “walking further and further down the path of error and danger”. Though Australia says it’s just responding to China’s own military build-up (including 12 new nuclear powered and armed subs in the past 15 years alone). 

Intrigue’s take: US president Joe Biden says AUKUS will “enhance the stability of the Indo-Pacific amid rapidly shifting global dynamics”. Translation: he wants to build up Western military capabilities in the region to deter Beijing. 

But history teaches us that deterrence is a high-stakes game. It can be (mis)interpreted in other capitals as a threat. They respond accordingly. Next thing you know, you’ve got an arms race. Then an incident. Then a war.  

Washington is mindful of this risk: just look at its constant references to the need for ‘guardrails’ with China. But China’s opaque system means its intentions are often less clear.

Also worth noting: 

  • Australia will become the seventh country to operate nuclear-powered subs, and the first allowed to buy a US Virginia-class sub. 
  • AUKUS will be the single biggest investment in Australia’s defence capabilities in the country’s history. 
Latest Author Articles
US allies hold breath as House readies vote on security assistance bills

After months of deadlock, US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson says he’ll bring a key $95B military aid package to a vote as soon as tomorrow (Saturday).

19 April, 2024
Microsoft invests $1.5B in UAE AI firm after secret US government talks

US tech giant Microsoft has announced it’ll invest $1.5B in G42, the leading artificial intelligence (AI) firm in the UAE. The “strategic investment”, which gives Microsoft a minority stake in the company, aims to further the UAE’s ambitions as an AI hub while bringing yet another leading AI firm into Washington’s orbit.

17 April, 2024
Modi unveils election manifesto as ~1 billion Indians prepare to vote

Few world leaders enter a re-election campaign as sure of winning as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but that’s no excuse to slack off. So last Sunday, just before voting kicks off this Friday, his Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party, or BJP) unveiled its election manifesto named Modi’s Guarantee.

16 April, 2024
Could the US let WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange walk free? 

President Joe Biden just said the US is “considering” Australia’s request to end the pursuit of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a move that could close over 14 years of legal and diplomatic drama. 

12 April, 2024