Australian Department of Defence press release
The signing of the Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement (the Agreement) with our AUKUS partners – the United Kingdom and the United States – is another important step in Australia’s pursuit of conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines.
Minister for Defence the Hon Peter Dutton MP said the Agreement will further advance consultations by permitting the United Kingdom and the United States to exchange sensitive and classified naval nuclear propulsion information with a third country for the first time.
Minister Dutton said:
“This Agreement will support Australia in completing the 18 months of intensive and comprehensive examination of the requirements underpinning the delivery of nuclear-powered submarines.
The United Kingdom and the United States will be able to share naval nuclear propulsion information with Australia, which they cannot with any other country, in the determination of the optimal pathway to acquire nuclear-powered submarines for operation by the Royal Australian Navy.
With access to the information this Agreement delivers, coupled with the decades of naval nuclear-powered experience our UK and US partners have, Australia will also be positioned to be responsible and reliable stewards of this technology.”
The Agreement will also provide a mechanism for Australian personnel to access invaluable training and education from their UK and US counterparts, necessary for learning how to safely and effectively build, operate and support nuclear-powered submarines.
Importantly, the Agreement is consistent with Australia’s international obligations, including under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Australia is not seeking nuclear weapons. The submarines will be conventionally armed. The Agreement only allows for the sharing of naval nuclear propulsion information. No nuclear equipment can be transferred under this agreement.
Minister Dutton also highlighted the importance of the Agreement for Australia’s regulatory framework.
“This Agreement will assist Australia to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to create a world-class regulatory and safety regime required for the safe operation of naval nuclear propulsion,” Minister Dutton said.
“I thank our AUKUS partners for their commitment to bringing this pivotal agreement together quickly which assures continued progress for our nuclear-powered submarine ambitions and our collective efforts to ensure the Indo-Pacific remains stable, secure and prosperous, and free from coercion.”
The Agreement was today tabled in the Australian Parliament for consideration by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. The Agreement is also subject to the domestic processes of the United States and the United Kingdom.
Naval News comments:
On 16 September 2021, the Prime Minister of Australia, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the President of the United States of America, announced an enhanced trilateral security partnership between Australia, the UK and the US (AUKUS). As announced at the time, the first major initiative under AUKUS is Australia’s acquisition of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines. The Australian Government intends to build these submarines in Adelaide. This announcement meant the Australian Government will no longer be proceeding with the Attack Class Submarine Program. The decision angered France who was deeply involved in the program, with French shipbuilder Naval Group designing the boats. France also had a strategic partnership agreement in place with Australia. At the end of September, the tension between the four allies was such that Paris had recalled its ambassadors in Australia and the United States. While relations with the United States have since been normalized, those with Australia remain complicated.
It is still unclear which SSN design Australia will adopt. Our contributor H I Sutton looked at several options in this recent article: