One of America’s biggest proponents of the AUKUS deal with Australia and the United Kingdom has vowed Australia will not be getting substandard submarines despite suggestions that the vessels purchased will be rebadged Virginia-class models instead of newly built ships.
Democrat Congressman Joe Courtney also told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that much-needed progress was being made to get through a maze of US regulations and export control laws that stand between Australia and the multibillion-dollar pact, which will be unveiled in San Diego on Tuesday morning.
Under the agreement, Australia is expected to buy up to five Virginia-class subs from the US to help safeguard the Indo-Pacific against the rising threat of China. After that, Australia will acquire a second AUKUS-class submarine, based on UK designs and US technology, from the mid to late 2030s.
After briefings from the White House and the National Security Council this week, Courtney gave the strongest signal yet that the Virginia-class submarines the US plans to sell will not be newly built, but high-quality rebadged models.
“They definitely won’t be clunkers,” said Courtney, who co-chairs the bipartisan “AUKUS caucus” and is regarded as one of Congress’ top navy experts. “I can assure you they’ll be very modern and very, very capable.
“The people that have been working at this understand the complexity of construction and acquisition, and they understand things like timing and chronology. The bottom line is I think what we’re going to see emerge is the mixture of all three countries [Australia, the US and Britain] participating in this enterprise to get Australia a 21st-century submarine fleet.”
Courtney’s comments came as Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese landed in San Diego late on Saturday afternoon, where he was greeted on arrival by Australia’s ambassador to the US, Arthur Sinodinos, and later at his downtown hotel by the US ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy.
On Monday (US time), Albanese will meet US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to unveil the long-awaited details of the AUKUS pact, including the real cost, timing and procurement.