AUKUS: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese plays down shock US submarine call

Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
2 Min Read
Virginia-class submarines supposed to be delivered this year are running more than 30 months late.
Virginia-class submarines supposed to be delivered this year are running more than 30 months late. Credit: Aaron Bunch/AAP

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is playing down fears a surprise US move to halve its order of nuclear-powered submarines for next year could threaten the AUKUS timeline.

The US Navy is planning to order just one Virginia-class submarine for 2025, rather than two, as its shipbuilding industry is stretched to capacity.

The planned cut is potentially significant for Australia because its hopes of buying Virginia-class submarines from the US hinge on the Americans speeding up production of the ships.

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Australia is planning to purchase at least three of the US-made submarines from 2032 under a major part of the AUKUS pact.

The announcement overshadowed the 12-month anniversary of Mr Albanese joining US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in San Diego to unveil the roadmap for the nuclear submarine agreement.

Asked if the proposed cut - detailed in the Biden Administration’s budget request to Congress - would affect Australia’s planned purchase of US submarines, Mr Albanese responded: “No”.

“Our plans are very clear going forward. We have an agreement that was reached with the United States and the UK,” Mr Albanese said.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 13: Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attends a press conference after a trilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during the AUKUS summit  on March 13, 2023 in San Diego, California. President Biden hosts British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in San Diego for an AUKUS meeting to discuss the procurement of nuclear-powered submarines under a pact between the three nations. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 13: Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attends a press conference after a trilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during the AUKUS summit on March 13, 2023 in San Diego, California. President Biden hosts British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in San Diego for an AUKUS meeting to discuss the procurement of nuclear-powered submarines under a pact between the three nations. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images) Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Mr Albanese noted US Congress last year passed legislation allowing its submarines to be sold to Australia.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said the Federal Government was well aware of the pressures in the US shipbuilding industry when it agreed to the AUKUS timeline.

Mr Marles pointed out the US budget request also included $11 billion to bolster the industrial base over the next five years, which would speed up production of Virigina-class submarines.

The Federal Government is also tipping $3 billion into the US submarine industry to help it ramp up production.

Defence expert Peter Dean — who helped write the landmark Defence Strategic Review — said the plan to halve the order of Virginia-Class submarines sent a “really bad message” to Australia and its allies.

But Professor Dean was confident Congress would ultimately approve funding for a second ship, describing the initial request as the “Biden Administration playing a game of chicken in an election year”.

Liberal leader Peter Dutton was confident the AUKUS pact would survive any short-term setbacks.

“There will be difficulties from time to time, either at the US end, or the Australian end, or the UK end, but they will be ironed out because in the end, our three countries coming together make us stronger than if we stand apart,” Mr Dutton said.

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