Australia is set to buy as many as five Virginia class nuclear powered submarines from the US as part of a tri-county agreement between the two countries and the UK.
Four US officials confirmed the pact on Wednesday and the move follows China building up its military with pressure around Taiwan diplomacy and a show of arms on the South China Sea.
The agreement, known as the AUKUS pact, will have multiple stages with at least one US submarine visiting Australian ports in the coming years. It is understood the deal will end in the late 2030s with a new class of submarines being built with British designs and American technology, one of the officials said.
US president Joe Biden will host leaders of Australia and Britain in San Diego on Monday to chart a way forward for provision of the nuclear-powered submarines and other high-tech weaponry to Australia.
China has reportedly condemned the effort, although no official statement has been given from Beijing.
Two of the AUKUS officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that after the annual port visits, the United States would forward deploy some submarines in Western Australia state by around 2027.
In the early 2030’s, Australia would buy three Virginia class submarines and have the option to buy two more.
AUKUS is expected to be Australia’s biggest-ever defence project and offers the prospect of jobs in all three countries.
Australia has an existing fleet of six conventionally powered Collins-class submarines, which will have their service life extended to 2036. Nuclear submarines can stay underwater for longer than conventional ones and are harder to detect.
The officials did not elaborate on the planned new class of submarines, including offering specifics about production locations.
The Pentagon referred queries to the White House, which declined to confirm details about any upcoming announcement. The British Embassy in Washington did not comment directly but repeated an announcement from London that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would travel to the United States for further talks on AUKUS.
The Australian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Under the initial AUKUS deal announced in 2021, the United States and Britain agreed to provide Australia with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines as part of joint efforts to counter the increasing threat posed by China in the Indo-Pacific region.
But a deal between the three countries on how specifically to achieve that goal had not been ironed out.