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US, UK equipping Australia with nuclear submarines as AUKUS alliance is born to counter China

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The US, UK and Australia have entered a trilateral security partnership to counter China which will include equipping Australia with nuclear-powered submarines and long-range Tomahawk missiles

The US, UK and Australia have entered a trilateral security partnership to counter China which will include equipping Australia with nuclear-powered submarines and long-range Tomahawk missiles.

The initiative, called AUKUS, was announced jointly by US president Joe Biden and prime ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison on Wednesday at a videoconference.

Morrison said teams from the three countries would draw up a joint plan over the next 18 months for assembling Australia’s new nuclear-powered submarine fleet in Adelaide. The project will make Australia only the seventh country in the world to have submarines propelled by nuclear reactors.

Until now, the US has only shared its nuclear propulsion technology with the UK, in an arrangement dating back to 1958. The three leaders stressed that Australia will not go for nuclear weapons but only be using nuclear propulsion systems for the vessels, to guard against future threats.

The trialeral arrangement leaves out Asian powers, Japan and India, which have been part of an emerging grouping of the Indo-Pacific QUAD, which is set to hold its first summit later this month in New York.

Coalition membership is built around the "three R's," Nikkei Asia quoted Tanvi Madan as saying.  "Are the members relevant to the particular subset of issues? Are the members ready? Do they have the resources?"

She added: "So, in this case, some things might be easier because all three are Five Eyes countries,"  referring to an intelligence-sharing group that also includes New Zealand and Canada. The daily said India is not part of the alliance as its pursues a doctrine of "strategic autonomy".Nuclear power will allow Australian attack submarines to remain at sea for as long as five months and operate more silently than the country’s existing diesel powered fleet, allowing them to better evade enemy detection.

This would also bring the Australian Navy at power with China’s which also uses nuclear powered submarines. 

"In a potential conflict with China, many U.S. military planners believe that only a submarine could operate in the Taiwan Strait -- China's 2,000 short- to medium-range missiles could sink every surface ship that entered the waters," Nikkei Asia wrote.

None of the three leaders mentioned China while announcing the partnership but their intent was clear. The development comes in the backdrop of China’s expansionist thrust in the South China Sea and stepped up hostility towards Taiwan.

“We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region, and how it may evolve, because the future of each of our nations and indeed the world, depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead,” Biden said.

"Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific. This affects us all. The future of the Indo-Pacific will impact all our futures," Morrison said.

He disclosed that Australia would also acquire long-range US Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Johnson said they would work "hand in glove to preserve stability and security in the Indo-Pacific."

However, France was angry over the agreement as it marks the end for a $90 billion contract Australia signed with the French company Naval Group in 2016.

Also read: PM Modi to visit USA for first in-person Quad Leaders’ Summit