AP, MOUNTAIN VIEW, California
From underwater drones to electronic warfare, the US is expanding its high-tech military cooperation with Australia and the UK as part of a broader effort to counter China’s rapidly growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Friday met with Australian Minister for Defence Richard Marles and British Secretary of Defence Grant Shapps at the US military’s Defense Innovation Unit headquarters in Silicon Valley to forge a new agreement to increase technology cooperation and information sharing.
The goal is to be able to better address global security challenges, ensure each can defend against rapidly evolving threats and to “contribute to stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” they said in a joint statement.
Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, Austin said the effort would rapidly accelerate the sophistication of the drone systems used by the members of the AUKUS military alliance among Australia, the UK and the US, and prove that “we are stronger together.”
The new technology agreement is the next step in the widening military cooperation with Australia that was first announced in 2021. The three nations have laid out plans to help equip Australia with a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines.
Under the deal, Australia is to buy three Virginia-class submarines from the US and build five of a new AUKUS-class submarine in cooperation with the UK. The subs, powered by US nuclear technology, would not carry nuclear weapons and would be built in Adelaide, Australia, with the first one to be finished in about 2040.
Marles said there has been an enormous amount of progress in the submarine program, adding that as an island nation, Australia has a need for improved maritime drones and precision strike capabilities.
Shapps said that with China “undermining the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific, we’ve never had a greater need for more innovation.”
He said that open navigation of the seas, including in the Pacific and the South China Sea, is critical.
Royal Australian Navy officers have already started to undergo nuclear power training at US military schools, officials have said.
The new agreement also sets up a series of military exercises involving the use of undersea and surface maritime drones and improves the ability of the three countries to share intelligence and data collected by their sonobuoys, which are used to detect submarines and other objects in the water.
It also calls for plans to expand the use of artificial intelligence, including on P-8A surveillance aircraft, to more quickly process data from the buoys to improve anti-submarine warfare.
The three countries are also to establish new radar sites to beef up their ability to detect and track objects in deep space.
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