The United States, Australia and Britain on Monday unveiled details of a plan to provide Australia with nuclear-powered attack submarines from the early 2030s.
Under the deal, the United States intends to sell Australia three U.S. Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines, which are built by General Dynamics, in the early 2030s, with an option for Australia to buy two more if needed, a joint statement said.
It said the multi-stage project would culminate with British and Australian production and operation of a new submarine class – SSN-AUKUS – a "trilaterally developed" vessel based on Britain's next-generation design that would be built in Britain and Australia and include "cutting edge" U.S. technologies.
Britain would take delivery of its first SSN-AUKUS submarine in the late 2030s, and Australia would receive its first in the early 2040s. The vessels will be built by BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce.
AUKUS will be the first time Washington has shared nuclear-propulsion technology since it did so with Britain in the 1950s.
China has condemned AUKUS as an illegal act of nuclear proliferation. In launching the partnership, Australia also upset France by abruptly cancelling a deal to buy French conventional submarines.
Experts have raised concerns with the deal as it entails the exercise of a loophole that allows Australia, a non-nuclear-weapon state, to remove nuclear material from the inspection system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
This will set "a damaging precedent," James M. Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote in an article published by the institute. "In the future, would-be proliferators could use naval reactor programs as cover for the development of nuclear weapons – with the reasonable expectation that, because of the Australia precedent, they would not face intolerable costs for doing so."
(With input from Reuters)