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AUKUS nations trailing China in 19 out of 23 key defence technologies, warns ASPI

China is leading the world in high-impact research in 19 out of 23 technologies relevant to the AUKUS technology partnership and has a commanding lead in hypersonics, electronic warfare and in key undersea capabilities, according to a new report.

But in technologies such as autonomous systems operation technology, advanced robotics, adversarial AI-reverse engineering and protective cybersecurity, the collective strength of the AUKUS countries shifts this picture and, together, they take the global lead.

These are some of the key findings of the latest Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) analysis of the global critical technology race, focussing on many of the fields that are covered by the AUKUS agreement.

Click here to read the research

In some technology areas, China’s lead is so great that no aggregation of countries exceeds its share – highlighting the importance of the accelerating effect of greater collaboration between like-minded partners.

The fact that the three AUKUS nations still trail China in some fields even when their efforts are tallied underscores the value of the technology-sharing agreement, whose aim is to accelerate shared technological development by enabling the partners to leverage one another’s strengths.

Australia performs strongly across a number of important technologies, ranking third in the world in adversarial AI and fourth for protective cybersecurity technologies.

In hypersonics, undersea capabilities and electronic warfare, China’s leads are so emphatic they create a significant risk that China might dominate future technological breakthroughs in these areas. The combined strength of the three AUKUS nations puts them in close competition with China in about half of the tracked technologies, including quantum communications, advanced data analytics and machine learning.

The new research looked at 23 critical technologies that are integral to the advanced capability areas of AUKUS Pillar 2. The work builds on ASPI’s landmark Critical Technology Tracker, which was released in March and found that China had established wider leads in publishing high-impact research across a greater breadth of critical technology fields than previously known.

The new analysis finds that for some technologies, such as autonomous underwater vehicles, almost all of the leading research institutions are based in China, where they generate nine times more high-impact research papers than their closest competitors in the United States.

ASPI’s talent tracker dataset shows 14.2 percent of high-impact authors working in China completed postgraduate training in an AUKUS country. This knowledge import is highest in defence categories such as hypersonic detection (at 19.5 percent) and electronic warfare (at 17.6 percent).

The latest analysis illustrates the benefit of cooperation – such as through AUKUS – between like-minded countries in critical technologies that are vital to security. It is likely to strengthen some calls for AUKUS to expand technology cooperation to other countries such as Japan.

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