• The Virginia-class attack submarine. (US Navy)
    The Virginia-class attack submarine. (US Navy)

The head of US Indo-Pacific Command has said that efforts will be made to speed up the transfer of critical technology from the US to Australia under the second pillar of AUKUS. 

This will see Artificial Intelligence (AI), quantum technologies, undersea, hypersonic, and cyber capabilities shared with Australia, for which questions have been raised about how willing and quickly such transfers will be made due to US export controls. 

Admiral John C. Aquilino made these remarks during the question-and-answer session at a special lecture organised by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in Singapore.

He was responding to a question by IISS Director-General and Chief Executive Dr John Chipman, who noted that there was concern that there is no “mini-ITAR” to enable the AUKUS partners to share capabilities with each other quickly.

ITAR refers to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, a US regulatory regime to restrict and control the export of defence and military related technologies to safeguard US national security and further foreign policy objectives. 

Aquilino acknowledged that US partners have said that ITAR issues “can be tricky to work through” in many cases, and that “when you share the highest levels of technology you can expect it can be even more tricky”. 

Nevertheless, he sought to reassure on that front, stating that “we will figure this out”, and that in prior discussions with UK Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Tony Radakin and Australian Chief of Defence Force General Angus Campbell they have laid out what capabilities will be delivered in the short-, medium- and long-term.

“We will deliver warfighting capabilities (under Pillar Two) as fast as possible, with a focus on efforts to “deliver a warfighting advantage”, he said, without going into specifics.

“Some of these may be long-term, but there are certainly some things that we are going to deliver in the real near-term.”

Aquilino also field questions on the future rotational deployment of US Navy nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) to Western Australia which was announced last week as part of the broader roadmap to delivering an SSN capability to the RAN.

He did not provide more specifics about whether the future deployments will result in a net increase of US Navy SSNs in the Indo-Pacific or the duration of the deployments as the details are still being fleshed out. 

However, he said that the focus will be “to move at the fastest pace possible to deliver the capability that Australia has identified is needed”.

Under the AUKUS submarine plans unveiled last week, the AUKUS partners will have a rotational presence of “up to four” US Navy and one Royal Navy SSNs at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia from 2027. This presence will be known as Submarine Rotational Force - West (SRF-West). 

Defence says the deployments “will help Australia build the necessary operational capabilities and skills to be sovereign ready, so Australia can safely and securely own, operate, maintain and regulate a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines from the early 2030s”.

It adds that “SRF-West will accelerate our efforts to develop Australia's capability to safely and securely operate and sustain its future nuclear-powered submarines.”

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