Submarines are part of the AUKUS pact with the UK, which may also be developing a ship with Australia.
Australia is expected to purchase as many as five U.S. Virginia-class nuclear submarines by the 2030s as part of a historic Pacific security pact with the United States and the United Kingdom, according to four U.S. officials.
Under the so-called AUKUS agreement, at least one US submarine will visit Australian ports in the coming years and a new class of submarines will be built using British designs and US technology by the late 2030s, one of the officials told the Reuters news agency.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will meet with US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in San Diego on Monday to reveal AUKUS’s next steps. The Pacific Security Pact first announced in September 2021 has been seen as an attempt to counter China’s growing power and assertive positioning in the region and has drawn condemnation from Beijing.
Two of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the US would deploy some submarines to Western Australia around 2027 after annual port visits.
In the early 2030s, Australia would buy three Virginia-class submarines and have the option to buy two more.
Australia has an existing fleet of six conventionally powered Collins-class submarines, with service life extended to 2036. Nuclear submarines can remain submerged longer than conventional submarines and are more difficult to detect.
The officials did not elaborate on the planned new class of submarines, including offering details of production sites.
Meanwhile, British newspaper The Guardian reported on Wednesday, citing multiple unnamed sources, that the UK had “succeeded in selling British nuclear submarines to Australia” and that Sunak was “buzzing about it” when he told ministers.
It suggested that the Virginia-class submarines from the US would be a “stopgap solution”, while Australia and the UK worked together on a design for a next-generation submarine of the existing Astute-class ship, noting that the complexity of the task meant it might not be finished until the 2040s.
The Pentagon referred questions to the White House, which declined to confirm details of an upcoming announcement. The British Embassy in Washington, DC, did not directly comment on the Reuters report, but reiterated an announcement from London that Sunak would travel to the US for further talks on AUKUS.
The Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Under the original AUKUS agreement, the US and UK agreed to provide Australia with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines.
At present, no party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) other than the five countries the treaty recognizes as weapon states – China, France, Russia, the UK and the US – has nuclear submarines.