The US, UK and Australia have agreed on a concrete timetable to equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. The declared goal of their alliance is to strengthen security and military deterrence in the Indo-Pacific – where China is also trying to expand its power. Shortly before a meeting of the heads of government of all three countries in San Diego, senior US officials presented the details of the new schedule.

According to this, the USA and Great Britain want to station submarines in Australia on a rotating basis from 2027. In the 2030s, Australia is then expected to build its own fleet of nuclear submarines. It is about a nuclear propulsion system, not about nuclear armament. First, the country will buy submarines from the United States, it said. In the long term, the three countries plan to jointly develop a submarine model that will eventually be built in Australia itself.

Security experts see the alliance and its large-scale project primarily as an attempt to counter China’s increasing striving for power in the Indo-Pacific – even if the three countries assure that their alliance should not send a signal to a single country.

The USA, Great Britain and Australia launched the security alliance called Aukus in 2021. The name is derived from the English abbreviations of the three countries (AUS, UK and USA). US President Joe Biden met with the heads of government from Great Britain and Australia, Rishi Sunak and Anthony Albanese, in San Diego, California, to discuss how the alliance should proceed. The US has a major military port in San Diego.

Multi-stage schedule

US government officials commented in advance on the multi-stage timeline for the three-country project. The first phase is already underway and will be intensified in the coming years, it said. This included joint exercises and the training of Australian seafarers, engineers, technicians and other personnel. US and UK submarines would call more at ports in Australia. Australian sailors, in turn, would be tied into US and UK submarine units. From 2027, the stationing of rotating units of U.S. and British submarines in Australia is planned.

The second phase will begin in the early 2030s. Once Australians are properly trained, the country will buy three conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarines from the US, with the option to purchase two more if needed. In the long term, a new submarine model is to be built that combines American, British and Australian technology. This is said to be built initially in the UK from the late 2030s. At the beginning of the 2040s, the first model of this type to be manufactured in Australia should also be ready.

USA: No embassy to a single country – except to China

The US officials reiterated that the primary goal of the Aukus Alliance was “to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and to deter and defend against rapidly evolving threats to the international order and system there.” They did not mention China of their own accord, only when asked. The stability in the region is increasingly being threatened by China, among others, they then added. Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, China has taken various provocative steps in recent years, such as increased activities in the South China Sea and around Taiwan.

Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stressed that the alliance does not send a message to a single country. Rather, it is a positive message to all countries in the region and the world. The announcement of the plans did not come out of nowhere, but had been prepared over 18 months since the alliance was founded, he said. “Indeed, we have consulted closely with allies, partners and countries across the Indo-Pacific, and we have spoken directly to China to explain what Aukus is and is not.” The alliance proceeds with great transparency.

American-Chinese relations strained

US-China relations are severely strained over a slew of contentious issues. Biden’s government sees the emerging People’s Republic as the greatest geopolitical challenge and competition. China’s government had recently publicly struck unusually sharp tones against the United States and accused the United States and the West of wanting to prevent China’s rise in the world. President Xi spoke of “containment, encirclement and suppression of China”.

Beijing had already reacted indignantly to the founding of the Aukus Alliance in 2021. The pact also caused great resentment elsewhere in the world: France was angry about the new alliance at the time because the Aukus pact, a 56 billion euro contract to supply French submarines to Australia, burst.