US forges new high-tech agreement with Australia, UK

Lolita C Baldor |

A proposed sale of AUKUS material to Australia won’t alter regional military balance, the US says.
A proposed sale of AUKUS material to Australia won’t alter regional military balance, the US says.

From underwater drones to electronic warfare, the United States is expanding its high-tech military cooperation with Australia and the United Kingdom as part of a broader effort to counter China’s rapidly growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday met with defence chiefs from Australia and the United Kingdom at the US military’s defence technology hub in Silicon Valley to forge a new agreement to increase technology cooperation and information sharing. 

The goal, according to a joint statement, is to be able to better address global security challenges, ensure each can defend against rapidly evolving threats and to “contribute to stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond”.

US Australia
Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles met with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin about AUKUS. (AP PHOTO)

Austin met with Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles and Grant Shapps, the British secretary of state for defence, at the Defence Innovation Unit headquarters. 

Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, Austin said the effort will, for example, rapidly accelerate the sophistication of the drone systems, and prove that “we are stronger together”.

The new technology agreement is the next step in a widening military cooperation with Australia that was first announced in 2021. The three nations have laid out plans for the AUKUS partnership to help equip Australia with a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines. AUKUS is an acronym for Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Under the deal, Australia will buy three Virginia-class submarines from the United States and build five of a new AUKUS-class submarine in cooperation with Britain. The subs, powered by US nuclear technology, would not carry nuclear weapons and would be built in Adelaide, Australia with the first one finished around 2040.

Marles said there has been an enormous amount of progress in the submarine program. He added that as an island nation, Australia has a need for improved maritime drones and precision strike capabilities. 

And Shapps said that with China “undermining the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific, we’ve never had a greater need for more innovation.” He said that open navigation of the seas, including in the Pacific and the South China Sea is critical.

According to officials, Australian Navy officers have already started to go through nuclear power training at US military schools.

Also, earlier this year the US announced it would expand its military industrial base by helping Australia manufacture guided missiles and rockets for both countries within two years. Under that agreement, they would cooperate on Australia’s production of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems by 2025.

The enhanced cooperation between the nations has been driven by growing concerns about China’s burgeoning defence spending and rapidly expanding military presence in the region. Last year Beijing signed a security pact with Solomon Islands and raised the prospect of a Chinese naval base being established there.

The US has increased US troop presence, military exercises and other activities in the region. US relations with China have been strained in recent years, over trade, US support for self-governing Taiwan, Beijing’s military buildup on a series of manmade islands, and a number of aggressive aircraft and ship encounters.

The new agreement also sets up a series of military exercises involving the use of undersea and surface maritime drones and improvement the ability of the three countries to share intelligence and data collected by their sonobuoys. The buoys are used to detect submarines and other objects in the water.

It also calls for plans to expand the use of artificial intelligence, including on P-8A surveillance aircraft, to more quickly process data from the buoys in order to improve anti-submarine warfare. And it says the three countries will establish new radar sites to beef up their ability to detect and track objects in deep space.