US, Australia and UK to unveil landmark security deal: reports

·2-min read
French President Emmanuel Macron (2nd L) and former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull (3rd L) stand on the deck of a Collins-class submarine in Sydney in May 2018 -- reports say that an expected security deal with the United States and Britain could derail Australia's plans to purchase French submarines (AFP/ludovic MARIN)

The United States, Australia and Britain are expected to announce a landmark security pact on Wednesday that could see a multi-billion-dollar Paris-Canberra deal on submarines scrapped, Australian media reported.

The pact, known as AUKUS, would allow the three allies to "share advanced technologies, including nuclear submarine technology," The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The official announcement is expected later Wednesday, according to reports. The White House said US President Joe Biden would deliver "brief remarks about a national security initiative" at 5 pm (2100 GMT). He will be joined virtually by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

In light of the new pact, Australia would likely scrap a AUS$90 billion (roughly $66 billion) deal to purchase French submarines, the report said.

The troubled deal with France's Naval Group to build 12 state-of-the-art Attack Class subs is years behind schedule, well over budget and has become tangled up in Australian domestic politics.

As recently as June this year, French President Emmanuel Macron promised "full and complete" commitment to the deal, but a top Australian defense official said around the same time that Australia was actively considering alternatives should the French deal fall through.

Australian officials said at the time the work on the specifics of "Plan B" was classified but indicated the issue had been taken more seriously in recent months and included submarines and non-submarines.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported the AUKUS pact would see Australia replace its Collins class submarines with nuclear-powered subs using US and British technology.

The deal would also allow for the three countries to share knowledge in areas including artificial intelligence, cyber and long-range strike capabilities, US outlet Politico reported.

The announcement comes as Australia has been boosting defense spending as it looks to a rapidly rising and more assertive China.

US President Joe Biden has also recently upped diplomatic efforts to cement alliances to counterbalance China.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is due to take part on September 24 in the first-ever White House gathering of the "Quad" diplomatic grouping -- made up of Australia, the United States, Japan and India.

The grouping is seen as a bid to offset China's growing economic and military reach in the Asia-Pacific region.

Australian media reports said Morrison held a "top-secret" cabinet meeting on the AUKUS pact on Tuesday in Canberra, with ABC highlighting the "highly unusual step" of including the opposition leader and shadow ministers in the briefing on the plan.

Australia's Defense Minister Peter Dutton and Foreign Minister Marise Payne are currently in Washington for in-person meetings with their US counterparts, reports added.

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