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AUKUS partners announce Pillar 1 and 2 developments

The partners in the tripartite AUKUS agreement – the USA, UK and Australia – have announced that the first maintenance to be carried out in Australia on a US Navy nuclear-powered submarine will be undertaken in the second half of 2024.

And they have also announced the start of a series of exercises exploring autonomous technologies and the use of AI in everything from launching and recovering Uncrewed Undersea Vessels (USVs) to Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW).

In their joint statement following the AUKUS ministers’ meeting, held at the Silicon Valley headquarters of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), the three countries’ defence ministers reaffirmed that all AUKUS collaboration will be undertaken in full compliance with the partners’ respective international legal obligations and commitments.

The US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Richard Marles MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Australia, and the Right Honourable Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Defence, United Kingdom, discussed AUKUS Pillar 1 – the acquisition by Australia of nuclear-powered submarines – and also Pillar 2, the pursuit of advanced military capabilities by the AUKUS partners.

They reaffirmed the three nations’ commitment to maximize the strategic and technological advantage of AUKUS by combining national strengths and pooling resources to deliver game-changing capabilities. To achieve this requires continued commitment to streamlining defense trade controls and information-sharing while minimizing policy and financial barriers across public and private sectors.

The key agreements under Pillar 1 include:

  • Increased Royal Australian Navy Education and Training with RAN personnel attending specialized nuclear engineering schools in the US and UK.
  • Increased Industry Training with Australian industry personnel already undertaking work in both Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and the UK’s submarine construction yard at Barrow-in-Furness
  • Preparing for Submarine Rotational Force-West, starting with an increased tempo of US SSNs visiting Australia from early 2024.
  • The first planned maintenance activity of a US Navy SSN is scheduled to occur at HMAS Stirling in the second half of 2024. The UK reiterated its commitment to increasing SSN port visits beginning in 2026.

Meanwhile, Pillar 2 is accelerating the development and delivery of advanced military capabilities, the Ministers say: alignment of the three countries’ defence strategies is facilitating unprecedented collaboration in advanced technologies

Key agreements under Pillar 2 include:

  • AUKUS Maritime Autonomy Experimentation and Exercise Series, a series of integrated trilateral experiments and exercises aimed at enhancing capability development, improving interoperability, and increasing the sophistication and scale of autonomous systems in the maritime domain.
  • Trilateral Anti-Submarine Warfare, deployingcommon advanced AI algorithms on multiple systems, including P-8A Maritime Patrol Aircraft, to process data from each nation’s sonobuoys.
  • Undersea Vehicle Launch and Recovery, integrating integrating the ability to launch and recover undersea vehicles from torpedo tubes on current classes of submarines to deliver effects such as strike and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.  This capability will increase the range and capability of the partners’ undersea forces
  • Quantum Positioning, Navigation, and Timing, accelerating the development of quantum technologies for positioning, navigation, and timing in military capabilities.
  • Resilient and Autonomous Artificial Intelligence Technologies (RAAIT), usingAI algorithms and machine learning to enhance force protection, precision targeting, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.  This effort builds on joint work demonstrated in the UK in April 2023 and in South Australia in October 2023.
  • Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability (see separate article).
  • Cyber, engaging on cyber security with critical suppliers to the naval supply chain and collaborating with industry partners to deploy some advanced tooling which will uplift the cyber security of supply chains.

The AUKUS partners are also aligning their defence innovation ecosystems by launching a series of AUKUS innovation challenges in which companies from across all three innovation ecosystems will be able to compete for prizes on a common innovation challenge topic.  In early 2024, partners will launch the first trilateral Innovation Prize Challenge, focusing on electronic warfare.

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