Submarines are part of the AUKUS pact with the UK, which may also jointly develop a vessel with Australia.
Australia is expected to buy as many as five US Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines in the 2030s as part of a landmark Pacific security pact with the United States and the United Kingdom, according to four US officials.
Under the so-called AUKUS agreement, at least one US submarine will visit Australian ports in the coming years and, by the late 2030s, a new class of submarines will be being built with UK designs and US technology, one of the officials told the Reuters news agency.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is due to meet US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in San Diego on Monday to reveal AUKUS’s next steps. The Pacific security pact first announced in September 2021 is seen as an attempt to counter China’s growing might and assertive positioning in the region and has drawn condemnation from Beijing.
Two of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that after the annual port visits, the US would deploy some submarines in Western Australia by about 2027.
In the early 2030s, Australia would buy three Virginia-class submarines and have the option to buy two more.
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.
Meanwhile, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing multiple unnamed sources, that the UK had “succeeded in its bid to sell British-designed nuclear submarines to Australia” and that Sunak was “buzzing about it” when he told ministers.
It suggested that the Virginia-class submarines from the US would be a “stop-gap” while Australia and the UK worked together on a design for a next-generation submarine from the existing Astute class vessel, noting that the task’s complexity meant it might not be ready until the 2040s.
The Pentagon referred queries to the White House, which declined to confirm details about any upcoming announcement. The UK embassy in Washington, DC did not comment directly on the Reuters report but repeated an announcement from London that Sunak would travel to the US for further talks on AUKUS.
The Australian embassy in Washington, DC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Under the initial AUKUS deal, the US and UK agreed to provide Australia with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines.
At the moment, no party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) other than the five countries the treaty recognises as weapons states – China, France, Russia, the UK and the US – has nuclear submarines.