Australia – United Kingdom – United States Partnership (AUKUS) -- Implementation Update
The history of U.S.-U.K. nuclear submarine cooperation goes back to the POLARIS Sales Agreement in 1962. This initial arrangement was updated in September 1980, by a U.S.-U.K. exchange of diplomatic notes that incorporated TRIDENT sale into the POLARIS Sales Agreement. U.S. Navy (USN) - Royal Australian Navy (RAN) acquisition cooperation dates from the 2001 timeframe, when RAN Navy Chief VADM David Shackleton and USN Chief of Naval Operations, RADM Vern Clark signed a Submarine Cooperation Statement of Principles (SoP) in the Pentagon. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and International Cooperative Program (ICP) agreements since that time between the USN and RAN include Collins-class diesel submarine combat systems cooperation and cooperative development, production, and support of the MK-48 heavyweight torpedo.
A major tectonic plate shift occurred in September 2021 when Australia terminated its 2016 acquisition arrangement with France to replace its Collins-class diesel-electric submarines with 12 new diesel-powered subs. At that time, Australian Prime Minister Morrison explained that nuclear-powered submarines -- which are inherently faster, stealthier, and more capable than diesel subs -- would be the best choice to provide future defense capability in this key area.
The National Security Advisors from the three allies met virtually in March 2022 to review AUKUS progress and provide direction to the trilateral partnership going forward. Joint Steering Groups were formed, which subsequently met to discuss two AUKUS lines of effort:
- Submarines: Providing Australia with a conventionally armed, nuclear powered submarine capability at the earliest possible date.
- Advanced Capabilities: Developing and providing joint advanced military capabilities to promote security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
Since then, seventeen trilateral working groups have been established -- nine relating to Submarines and eight relating to Advanced Capabilities -- which have met multiple times.
AUKUS Implementation Efforts
Trilateral programmatic and technical activities in support of Australia's effort to acquire a conventionally armed, nuclear powered submarine capability include:
Information exchange. An Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement (ENNPIA) was established in February 2022 to enable AUKUS operational, programmatic, and technical personnel to share naval nuclear propulsion information trilaterally.
Nuclear stewardship. Visits to multiple sites by combined teams from Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. to provide insights regarding Australia's planned efforts to baseline its nuclear stewardship, infrastructure, workforce, and industrial capabilities and requirements.
Australia workforce. Initiating trilateral activities to assist Australia in developing a workforce with the necessary skills, training, and qualifications to build, operate, and sustain a conventionally-armed nuclear-powered submarine capability.
New submarine base. Supporting Australia's plans to establish a future submarine base on the east coast of Australia to support the basing and disposition of future nuclear-powered submarines.
Nuclear-Powered Submarine Construction Yard: Supporting Australia's plans to acquire additional land and build a Nuclear-Powered Submarine Construction Yard near one of its shipyards in South Australia.
Non-proliferation. Conducting proactive, trilateral engagement activities with the International Atomic Energy Agency regarding the non-proliferation aspects of their nuclear submarine partnership efforts.
Trilateral programmatic and technical acquisition efforts in the following advanced capabilities include:
Undersea capabilities. Collaborating on autonomous underwater vehicles through a AUKUS Undersea Robotics Autonomous Systems (AURAS) project.
Quantum technologies. Cooperating through a AUKUS Quantum Arrangement (AQuA) to accelerate investments to deliver generation-after-next quantum capabilities over the next three years.
Artificial intelligence and autonomy. Expanding trilateral cooperation on artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomy to provide critical enablers for future force capabilities, improve the speed and precision of decision-making processes, and maintain a capability edge while defending against AI-enabled threats.
Advanced Cyber. Refocusing current trilateral efforts to further strengthen national and coalition cyber capabilities, including protecting critical communications and operations systems.
Hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities. The AUKUS partners will expand current cooperative work in programs such as HiFire to accelerate development of advanced hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities.
Electronic warfare (EW). Continuing and expanding trilateral cooperative efforts to improve EW tools, techniques, and technology that enable national and coalition forces to operate in contested and degraded environments.
Innovation. Accelerating national and cooperative defense innovation activities to learn from one another, including ways to more rapidly integrate commercial technologies to solve warfighting needs.
Information sharing. Expanding and accelerating the sharing of sensitive information, especially in programmatic and technological workstreams that underpin trilateral activities in the agreed areas of advanced capability cooperation.
Moving from strategic direction to substantive cooperation at the 'deckplate' level in the areas described above will take a lot of hard work by all three nations' acquisition organizations to turn the AUKUS Partnership vision into a reality. From a DoD perspective, the Under Secretaries for Research & Engineering and Acquisition & Sustainment will be leaning forward, as will the DoD Component Acquisition Executives responsible for cooperative Science & Technology, RDT&E, Production & Sustainment, and Product Upgrade efforts throughout the acquisition lifecycle.
The DoD Component International Program Organizations (IPOs) -- including the Navy International Programs Office, the SecAF International Affairs organization, Army's Defense Exports & Cooperation organization, and DARPA's international program staff -- have already been working with Program/Project Managers, Integrated Product Team members, R&D technologists, and S&T researchers in all of these areas to make progress. We will try to learn more about each DoD Component's International Acquisition & Exportability (IA&E) efforts in support of this initiative, and let you know how they are progressing, in a future blog.