Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has announced that he expects discussions with the nation’s AUKUS partners to “come to realisation” over the coming months, despite recent doubts cast by members of the US Senate Armed Services Committee over submarine acquisition.
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The concerns were raised by Senator Jack Reed and Senator James Inhofe, who cast doubt over the ability for US industry to construct Virginia Class submarines for Australia while also meeting operational demand from the US Navy.
In a letter addressed to President Joe Biden, and subsequently leaked to news outlet Breaking Defense, the pair allege that the construction of the submarines would push US defence industry to “breaking point”.
“Over the past year, we have grown more concerned about the state of the US submarine industrial base as well as its ability to support the desired AUKUS SSN end state,” the pair wrote.
“We are concerned that what was initially touted as a ‘do no harm’ opportunity to support Australia and the United Kingdom and build long-term competitive advantages for the US and its pacific allies, may be turning into a zero-sum game for scarce, highly advanced US SSNs.”
Senator Reed was the committee chairman and Senator Inhofe the ranking member at the time of writing.
Despite the concerns, Prime Minister Albanese stated that he remained “positive” over plans within the AUKUS trilateral security arrangement to obtain the capability.
Speaking to reporters in Geelong, the Prime Minister explained that he expects the discussions to “come to realisation” in the first quarter of 2023.
Addressing the concerns laid out by the two US lawmakers, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles explained that it was within the United States and United Kingdom’s “strategic interest” to support the development of nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Marles declined to confirm whether the Commonwealth intended to acquire the submarines direct from the US or to begin with local production.
“We'll need to wait until we announce what the optimal pathway will be. One point that we have consistently made which is relevant in the context of the comments that both Senator Reed and Senator Inhofe have made in the last 24 hours is that we understand that we will need to make our own contribution to the net industrial base of the three countries,” he explained.
“And that’s why we have said that we will develop the capacity in Adelaide to build nuclear-powered submarines and we will do that as quickly as we can.”