Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is heading to the US on Sunday to meet President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese as the three nations unveil the next phase of the AUKUS nuclear submarine program, a security partnership meant to counter China.
The decision on how to move ahead will be announced Monday when the three leaders meet in San Diego. The plan will take years to produce its first vessel, probably necessitating stopgap measures, according to people familiar with the discussions. The US may base nuclear submarines in Australia or sell the country Virginia-class submarines in the interim.
Australia’s new fleet of nuclear-powered umma will be based on a modified British design with US parts and upgrades, the people said. The new alliance in 2021 ended a French plan to build non-nuclear subs with Australia, angering leaders in Paris.
Ahead of the announcement, the UK is planning an update to its 2021 Integrated Review of defense and security to set out its response to increased global volatility. The Integrated Review Refresh will address the grave risks from Vladimir Putin’s Russia alongside increasing aggression from Beijing, according to Sunak’s office.
“In turbulent times, the UK’s global alliances are our greatest source of strength and security,” Sunak said in a statement.
“I am traveling to the United States today to launch the next stage of the AUKUS nuclear submarine program, a project which is binding ties to our closest allies and delivering security, new technology and economic advantage at home,” he said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning criticized the plan on Thursday, telling reporters in Beijing that the three countries should “do more things that are conducive to regional peace and stability.”