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Still facing hurdles for Pillar 1, AUKUS countries detail Pillar 2 ambitions

Despite concerns over submarine-building capacity to meet AUKUS Pillar 1 needs, AUKUS countries are moving ahead with Pillar 2 efforts. (Janes/Michael Fabey)

While questions remain about the ability of Australia, the UK, and the US (AUKUS) to meet submarine requirement commitments for their AUKUS Pillar 1 agreement, the trio of defence partners detailed more specific Pillar 2 ambitions on 1 December.

Defence and government officials underscored plans aimed to better develop technology related to autonomous operations, electronic warfare (EW), space sensing and hypersonic weaponry for Pillar 2 at a joint press conference by AUKUS at the Defense Innovation Unit headquarters in California.

Officials also cited continued bipartisan and overall support in their countries to continue with the agreement, even with political uncertainty and growing concern that the US will lack the capacity to meet both AUKUS submarine-building and its own submarine operational needs in the coming years.

The AUKUS agreement calls for the US to sell Virginia-class attack submarines (SSNs) to Australia as the South Pacific country develops its own ability to build future AUKUS SSNs. However, the US has been unable to build Virginias at the desired rate to meet its own needs and that sale would likely lead to a loss of available submarines to meet US global operational requirements, according to US defence analysts.

US naval and submarine-builder officials at HII's Newport News Shipbuilding and General Dynamics' Electric Boat say they expect to increase the boat-building rate enough with an increased workforce and greater yard capacity to meet the US and AUKUS needs. Still, some US naval officials acknowledge that US submarine-fleet-size concerns are causing some American lawmakers to rethink the AUKUS deal.

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