“In turbulent times, the UK’s global alliances are our greatest source of strength and security,” said the PM as he prepared for his flight. “I am travelling to the United States today to launch the next stage of the Aukus nuclear submarine programme, a project which is binding ties to our closest allies and delivering security, new technology and economic advantage at home.”
“As we launch the 2023 Integrated Review Refresh tomorrow, this is the future we want to deliver – a UK that is secure, prosperous and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners.”
Despite a war involving Russia on European soil, the move will essentially turn Britain’s “Indo-Pacific tilt” into an “Indo-Pacific posture” as it commits to dealing with the West’s greatest and long-term threat: China.
The same message is expected to be given by this week’s so-called Integrated Review Refresh – which will highlight “the increasingly concerning behaviour of the Chinese Communist Party” – and Thursday’s visit to Japan by defence secretary Ben Wallace to discuss progress with the new Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) fighter jet project.
Though unconfirmed, leaked details of the Aukus submarine deal also bode well for Britain’s defence industry.
The tripartite deal, also brokered by Boris Johnson and announced with fanfare in September 2021, will see Australia’s submarine fleet boosted with nuclear assets belonging to Britain and the US in a move that will see unprecedented sharing of nuclear technology with a non-nuclear nation.
The PM was expected to have informal talks with his Australian counterpart tonight, before an official meeting tomorrow which will include President Biden.
Claims that it was unworkable and teetering on the brink of failure will be proved wrong, with the announcement that Australia will receive two types of nuclear powered submarine.
First, it will acquire five US-built Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack subs which will allow Aukus to take shape in the water.
But these will be a temporary measure, while Britain develops plans for a modified version of its own next generation submarine.
The move – a decision made in Canberra – will support tens of thousands of jobs in so-called “red wall” constituencies in Northern England.
“As recently as Christmas there were media suggestions that Aukus was going badly, and the US was cautioning against mention of its Virginia Class submarine. We have come a long way since then, and, if this leaks are accurate, the arrangement may suit the UK much better than we had had dared to hope,” said Prof Alessio Patalano, East Asia war & strategy expert at King’s College London.
“The Pacific tilt is clearly not some mad idea of Boris Johnson’s of long lost empire , as it was depicted in certain quarters.
“Just look at the boost to trade and our defence industry, at a time when we are also selling new frigates to Indonesia and are embarking on GCAP with Japan and Italy. “
He added: “Aukus is a win for all concerned – the US has its own capable submarines based in Australia at Australian cost; Britain gets its next generation submarine at reduced cost because the real outlay – RND- will have been done for Australia, while Australia receives the capability she is seeking to meet the Chinese threat.”
But he acknowledged there would be little hope of the defence refresh filling capability gaps in Europe.
“We need to accept a degree of exposure in the medium and short term when it comes to Europe, and the sooner we grasp this, the better,” he said.
“We simply cannot reverse more than 10 years of what was essentially a cost-cutting exercise which elevated operational issues into strategic ones.”
James Rogers of the Council of Geostrategy said: ”The point is that Aukus is a real thing, and an impotent plank by which the UK and her allies can attempt to constrain more excessive Chinese ambitions.”
“This announcement will see the UK move from an Indo-Pacific tilt to a fuller Indo-Pacific posture, adding to our dialogue to join ASEAN, our carrier strike group deployment and permanent deployment of two patrol vessels.”
“It doesn’t mean we are ignoring our European commitments. We have a new Royal Marines base in Norway, have bolstered our support to the Baltics, Poland and Ukraine, for which we could buy new equipment in International markets and send it to Kyiv.”
“We can achieve the rest with our partners.”
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