Two U.S. Senators have raised major concerns over the trilateral AUKUS deal between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, saying that the supply of U.S. nuclear-powered submarines (SSN) to Australia could weaken America’s submarine fleet.
In a letter sent to the Biden Administration on Dec. 21, 2022, Senators’ Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) warned that the AUKUS deal would leave the U.S. Navy without sufficient submarines, while taking decades to supply the Australian fleet, reported Breaking Defense.
“We urge you to adopt a ‘do no harm’ approach to AUKUS negotiations and ensure that sovereign U.S. national security capabilities will not be diminished as we work to build this strategic partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom over the coming decades,” the senators wrote to U.S. President Joe Biden, reported Breaking Defense.
“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 U.S. and its Pacific allies, may be turning into a zero-sum game for scarce, highly advanced U.S. SSNs.
“We believe current conditions require a sober assessment of the facts to avoid stressing the U.S. submarine industrial base to the breaking point.”
The Senators said that while they recognized that providing Australia with U.S. submarines could counter an aggressive Beijing in the long term, “such a goal will take decades to achieve, and we cannot simply ignore contemporary realities in the meantime.”
The Epoch Times has reached out to the White House and Senator Jack Reed’s office to verify the authenticity of the report but did not receive a response by press time.
Senator Reed is the chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services, while Senator Inhofe was a ranking member of the committee until his recent retirement.
The bipartisan intervention is the first time members of U.S. Congress have raised concerns over the AUKUS deal, and comes three months before the Australian government unveils its nuclear submarine plan.
US Lawmakers Say Understanding Legal Impacts of AUKUS Needed
In their letter to the White House, the Senators said that the AUKUS deal had industrial, statutory, and regulatory constraints.
“We still have little understanding of what … permissions or waivers would be needed to realize the AUKUS SSN options,” the Senators wrote, reported Breaking Defense.
“These permissions or waivers are a serious matter and should not be taken for granted in negotiating any agreements.”
Meanwhile, members of the 2022 House Armed Services Committee have embraced the AUKUS deal, even passing legislation to train Australian naval personnel, but remained hesitant on the extent the United States can assist Australia at the expense of it’s own navy fleet.
“There’s been a lot of talk about well, the Australians would just buy a U.S. submarine. That’s not going to happen,” Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said in December, reported Breaking Defense.
“I just don’t see how we’re going to build a submarine and sell it to Australia during that time.”
In September 2021, Biden announced a trilateral security agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, known as AUKUS.
The announcement launched an intensive 18-month consultation period among the three governments to seek an optimal pathway for delivering a conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability to Australia at the earliest achievable date.
“The Navy is playing a key leadership role in developing this plan to ensure that our nation’s preeminent expertise is applied to the nuclear-powered submarine initiative,” according a May 2022 statement (pdf) by Admiral Michael Gilday, Chief of U.S. Naval Operations.
“We are focused on ensuring Australia understands the full scope of capabilities necessary to design, build, operate, and maintain a nuclear navy. AUKUS represents a tremendous strategic opportunity for the United States to expand our cooperation and collaboration with two of our closest allies, and we are on pace to respond to the President’s tasking.
“The Navy is also uniquely equipped to contest gray zone incrementalism by our adversaries.”
US Subs to Bridge Australia’s Capability Gap
Peter Dutton, former Australian defence minister and now Opposition Leader previously said that securing a small number of Virginia-class submarines “off-the-shelf” would be the best way for Australia to lessen the capability gap between the current Collins Class fleet and the arrival of locally made nuclear-powered submarines.
The capability gap would mean that extending the aging diesel-powered Collins Class submarines will likely need to be extended.
Former U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who served as secretary of the U.S. Navy during the Trump administration, said in November 2022 that the U.S. Navy should provide more help to defend Australia’s waters until it acquires its own nuclear submarines in response to the rising threat from Beijing.
“I believe it is difficult to say, ‘We are your ally, and we are here to support you when you are sitting at the tip of the spear,’ but it’s going to be 10 years until we deliver the critical piece of gear you need,” Spencer told The Australian.
Chinese state-run media Global Times has called AUKUS a tool to stir trouble and create “suspicion” about the Chinese regime’s intentions.
Australia’s Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles has yet to respond to the latest concerns but previously said he believes the 2030 deadline for the country to have nuclear subs in our waters is “optimistic in the extreme.”
The White House, Senator Jack Reed’s office, and Australia’s Defence Minister’s Office have been approached for comment.
Daniel Y. Teng, Rebecca Zhu, and Victoria Kelly-Clark contributed to this report.