The leaders of the AUKUS alliance have reaffirmed their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and have added a number of new shared capabilities to the August 2021 promise of sharing nuclear submarine technology with Australia.
In a joint statement by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and US President Joe Biden released on 6 April, the three leaders flagged increasing global tensions. “In light of Russia’s unprovoked, unjustified, and unlawful invasion of Ukraine, we reiterated our unwavering commitment to an international system that respects human rights, the rule of law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes free from coercion,” it said.
“We are pleased with the progress in our trilateral program for Australia to establish a conventionally armed, nuclear powered submarine capability,” it added. “We are fully committed to establishing a robust approach to sharing naval propulsion technology with Australia that strengthens the global non-proliferation regime.”
The release said the Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement (ENNPIA) entered into force on 8 February 2022, enabling AUKUS partners to share naval nuclear propulsion information trilaterally. It also said nine trilateral working groups had been established to develop the submarine initiative, and that combined teams from the three counties had visited multiple sites in Australia during February to baseline nuclear stewardship, infrastructure, workforce, and industrial capabilities and requirements. The findings of these visits were considered by the Joint Steering Group on submarines on 28 February.
The alliance has also agreed to work together on the development of hypersonic weapons, undersea capabilities, quantum technologies, artificial intelligence and autonomy, advanced cyber, electronic warfare capabilities, information sharing, and defence innovation. “These initiatives will add to our existing efforts to deepen cooperation on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities,” the statement read. “As our work progresses on these and other critical defense and security capabilities, we will seek opportunities to engage allies and close partners.”
The release was short on details on what hypersonic capabilities might be being developed, only that AUKUS partners will work together to accelerate development of advanced hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities. It’s unclear if this is an extension of the US-Australian Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE) hypersonic research program – development contracts for which were awarded in September 2021 – or the inclusion of the UK and Australia into other US programs.
Interesting, the hypersonics announcement did come just a day after the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Air Force Research Laboratory (AFLR) confirmed that, in February, the service had successfully conducted a flight test of the Lockheed Martin Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC). The test saw the HAWC successfully released and achieve speeds in excess of Mach 5 at altitudes greater than 65,000 feet.
For undersea capabilities, the release says the AUKUS Undersea Robotics Autonomous Systems (AURAS) project, will see the nations collaborate on autonomous underwater vehicles, with initial trials and experimentation planned for 2023.
For quantum technologies, the AUKUS Quantum Arrangement (AQuA) will accelerate investments to deliver generation-after-next quantum capabilities, with an initial focus on quantum technologies for positioning, navigation, and timing.
Cooperation between the three nations will also aim to provide critical artificial intelligence and autonomy enablers for future force capabilities, improving the speed and precision of decision-making processes and to defend against AI-enabled threats.
Advanced Cyber. In light of the importance of the cyber domain to advanced capabilities, we are focusing our efforts on strengthening cyber capabilities, including protecting critical communications and operations systems.
For development in electronic warfare, the release acknowledged that the electromagnetic spectrum is increasingly contested, and said the three countries will work together to share understanding of tools, techniques, and technology to operate in contested and degraded environments.