AUKUS update: Australia to get new missiles, subs, autonomous vehicles, AI/cyber capabilities

When it comes to defence, the Coalition is getting on with the job. 

During the early hours of the morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Boris Johnson and Joe Biden provided an update on the landmark AUKUS defence agreement that was signed on the 15th of September last year. 

The leaders stressed their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. 

They acknowledged that this commitment has become stronger after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

More importantly, the leaders revealed that the implementation of AUKUS is now fully underway, with the PM announcing that Australia is working with the US and UK to produce advanced hypersonic and counter-hypersonic long-range missile capabilities for our fighter jets and Navy ships as part of two key lines of defensive efforts:

  1. Submarines – AUKUS will provide Australia with a conventionally armed, nuclear powered submarine capability at the earliest possible date.
  2. Advanced capabilities – AUKUS will develop and provide joint advanced military capabilities including hypersonic missiles to promote security in the Indo-Pacific.

Update on submarines:

  • Information exchange - the Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement entered into force on February 8, 2022, enabling AUKUS partners to share naval nuclear propulsion information trilaterally.
  • Nuclear stewardship – in February combined teams from Australia, the UK and US visited multiple sites in Australia to baseline its nuclear stewardship, infrastructure, workforce, and industrial capabilities and requirements. 
  • Australian workforce - initial steps are underway to ensure Australia has a workforce with the necessary skills, training, and qualifications to build, operate, and sustain nuclear powered submarines. For example, a cohort of Australian personnel have commenced higher-education and training opportunities in nuclear science and engineering.
  • New submarine base - on March 7, the PM announced Australia’s plan to establish a future submarine base on the east coast to support the basing and disposition of future nuclear-powered submarines. This new facility will operate in conjunction with Australia’s existing submarine base in WA.
  • Nuclear Powered Submarine Construction Yard - the government is taking initial steps to secure additional land on which to build the Nuclear-Powered Submarine Construction Yard, including land adjacent to the existing Osborne North Shipyard in South Australia.

Update on advanced capabilities: 

  • Undersea capabilities - through the AUKUS Undersea Robotics Autonomous Systems project AUKUS partners are collaborating on autonomous underwater vehicles, with trials planned for 2023. 
  • Quantum technologies - the AUKUS Quantum Arrangement will accelerate investments to deliver generation-after-next quantum capabilities for positioning, navigation, and timing over the next three years. 
  • Artificial intelligence - cooperation on artificial intelligence and autonomy will provide critical enablers for future force capabilities, improving the speed and precision of decision-making processes to maintain a capability edge and defend against AI-enabled threats.
  • Advanced cyber – AUKUS partners are focusing our efforts on strengthening cyber capabilities, including protecting critical communications and operations systems.
  • Hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities - AUKUS partners will work together to accelerate development of advanced hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities.
  • Electronic warfare – given the electromagnetic spectrum is increasingly contested, AUKUS partners will work together to share understanding of tools, techniques, and technology to enable our forces to operate in contested and degraded environments.
  • Information sharing – AUKUS partners will expand and accelerate sharing of sensitive information, including as a first priority enabling workstreams that underpin our work on agreed areas of advanced capabilities.

As Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie wrote this morning, the Morrison government will “continue to build our resilience, stand up for our sovereignty, and ensure Australia has what it needs to keep us safe”.

“Meanwhile Labor wants you to believe they’re no different to us,” he said.

“Never forget that last time they were in power:

  • Defence spending fell to its lowest level since 1938.
  • Not a single navy ship was commissioned.
  • Defence industry shed 10% of its workforce.

“It’s a stark reminder of what is at stake…”

Bang on, Hastie!