The Daily Telegraph

UK security pact with US and Australia to curb China

- By Lucy Fisher, Nick Allen and Dominic Nicholls

BRITAIN has agreed a landmark security pact with the United States and Australia to share military technologi­es, starting with a plan to help Canberra build nuclear-powered submarines.

The trilateral partnershi­p, unveiled last night, will also see the nations swap knowledge on cyber, artificial intelligen­ce, quantum computing, undersea technology and other cutting-edge sciences.

It marks a thinly veiled attempt to counter China’s growing military prowess and reach, although mention of Beijing was markedly avoided in the formal announceme­nt of the partnershi­p.

The Government said the alliance was designed to “protect and defend our shared interests in the Indo-pacific” by bolstering the developmen­t of joint defence capabiliti­es.

The formal agreement, labelled with

‘This partnershi­p will become increasing­ly vital for defending our interests in the Indo-pacific region’

the acronym Aukus, pronounced Orcus, will be signed by Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison next week when the British and Australian leaders are in the United States for the United Nations general assembly in New York.

The centrepiec­e of the pact is a plan to share nuclear propulsion technology to help the Royal Australian Navy build attack submarines.

These will have greater range than the ageing Collins-class diesel-electric boats that it operates at present.

An 18-month feasibilit­y study will now commence, with the time frame for the delivery of the boats yet to be decided.

The move risks igniting a diplomatic row with France, as Canberra prepares to walk away from a beleaguere­d £47.6billion deal with French shipbuilde­r Naval Group to pursue the plan.

The Australian government has been at odds with the French defence giant over the design and escalating cost of the 12 diesel-electric submarines

ordered, according to reports. Mr Johnson last night declared Britain, the US and Australia were “natural allies” with shared interests and values.

“This partnershi­p will become increasing­ly vital for defending our interests in the Indo-pacific region and, by extension, protecting our people back at home,” he said.

A government source said Britain’s manufactur­ing base, America’s technologi­cal expertise and Australia’s geographic­al location at the intersecti­on of the Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans meant the three nations were an obvious fit for deeper defence co-operation.

The insider added that the pact was “a very, very big deal in terms of internatio­nal affairs” and had taken around six months to negotiate.

Yesterday, Mr Biden appeared to forget the name of Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, during a press conference announcing the partnershi­p, calling him “our fella from Down Under”, while referring to Mr Johnson as “Boris”.

Mr Morrison said that the nuclearpow­ered submarines would be built in Adelaide, but Mr Johnson said the partnershi­p would generate jobs across the United Kingdom.

Britain has six decades’ experience in the building and operation of nuclearpow­ered submarines, with manufactur­ing bases at the Rolls-royce plant near Derby and at BAE Systems, in Barrow.

Mandarins are confident the move will not breach Britain’s nuclear nonprolife­ration obligation­s, because it only involves the transfer of knowledge about nuclear propulsion systems rather than nuclear weapons.

The pact is part of Mr Biden’s attempt to refocus the attention of the US and its allies on the growing presence of Beijing. In extricatin­g the US from Afghanista­n, the president has repeatedly said they should be dealing with the “threats we face today, not yesterday’s threats”.

Mr Biden views US relations with China as a long-term struggle between autocracy and democracy. He wants to build a security coalition to counter the rapid technologi­cal progressio­n of China’s military, while also telling Beijing it must not “veer into conflict”.

US military and intelligen­ce officials fear China has stepped up its timetable for taking over Taiwan, which could lead to a catastroph­ic war.

In a recent disastrous classified Pentagon war game, which involved hundreds of senior US military personnel, American forces were crushed by China in a battle over Taiwan after the Pentagon’s informatio­n systems were knocked out. Following the war game, America’s second-most senior military commander disclosed plans for British soldiers to be given access to a US “combat cloud”.

Under the plan, allied soldiers would be able to use their biometrics to access real-time US intelligen­ce in a conflict.

Collaborat­ion on sonar technology is likely to be a high priority for the threenatio­n defence alliance.

Other undersea capabiliti­es to be developed could include hydrophone­s placed on the sea bed to listen for passing submarines, as was used throughout the Cold War with the Sound Surveillan­ce System in the so-called Greenland-iceland-uk gap.

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