The U.K.’s top military official said Tuesday he believes pace and industrial capacity are the two largest challenges to address in assisting Australia’s pursuit of nuclear-powered submarines over the next year and a half as part of the new AUKUS trilateral security partnership.

“The next 18 months, or I guess now the next 16 months, are going to be focused on how one makes sure those sorts of things are properly put to bed. But, yes, I think those are the two key issues. And they’re things I think we’ll be looking at clearly, because if this is to give real expression to what we’re talking about then it needs to be delivered at a sensible pace,” Gen. Sir Nick Carter, the U.K.’s chief of the defense staff, said during a Center for New American Security discussion.

The Virginia-class submarine future USS Delaware (SSN-791) at sea for sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean on Aug, 31, 2019. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
The Virginia-class submarine future USS Delaware (SSN-791) at sea for sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean on Aug, 31, 2019. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Leaders from the U.S, U.K. and Australia announced the formation of the new trilateral AUKUS security partnership in September, which includes an 18-month effort in which the U.S. and U.K. will work with Australia to inform how the country will pursue its first nuclear-powered submarines (Defense Daily, Sept. 15). 

With AUKUS and its new pursuit of nuclear-powered capabilities, Australia canceled a potential $90 billion program to replace its current fleet of six Collins-class diesel-electric attack submarines with 12 new conventionally powered submarines designed by France’s Naval Group.

“It was their recognition that the capability they were acquiring, in terms of submarines, wasn’t what they felt they needed for the context in which they found themselves in, in strategic terms. And they felt nuclear propulsion was more likely to give them the endurance, reach and sustainability that they need,” Carter said.

Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of U.S. naval operations, said recently the effort to design, build, support and properly oversee Australia’s fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines under AUKUS may take decades (Defense Daily, Sept. 23). 

Carter also cited information sharing as a top priority to address with AUKUS, beyond the nuclear-powered submarine aspect to include the partnership’s efforts to collaborate on technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and cyber. 

“I think like all these things we’re going to see how it goes. I think there are some question marks about how we share information and those sorts of things, which I hope this could act as a catalyst for us to be more open-minded about how we share information with allies and partners, because that would be helpful,” Carter said. 

AUKUS, in general, also aligns with the U.K.’s ongoing military strategic assessment and its tilt toward focusing in the Indo-Pacific region for future operations, according to Carter.

“It therefore provides a prospect to achieve something we might not have thought about in that way previously,” Carter said.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said earlier this month AUKUS will specifically help in building up capability to deter growing threats from China (Defense Daily, Oct. 1).