Anthony Albanese is expected to outline Australia’s preferred nuclear submarine option on US soil next month, along with US President Joe Biden and his British counterpart Rishi Sunak, raising the prospect of a possible new ship design involving all three allies.
Planning is underway for the prime minister to travel abroad on the long-awaited announcement from AUKUS of an “optimal path” to replace the Navy’s aging Collins-class fleet, and Defense Minister Richard Marles is advocating for a “genuinely trilateral” solution.
Details of this high-level event involving the three world leaders have yet to be publicly confirmed, but it is expected to take place in the United States to fit with President Biden’s agenda.
ABC understands that an exact date for the presentation has not yet been agreed upon, but the federal Parliament plans to include it in the second week of March, which means that Albanese could easily travel between March 10 and 19.
Albanese has already indicated that he will visit India, where he has been invited to accompany Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the fourth cricket test, which begins on March 9.
“Sunak and Albanese would be willing to travel for the announcement as it is more difficult at this time for the US president to leave his country,” a person familiar with the planning talks told ABC.
Albanese is scheduled to host Biden and the prime ministers of India and Japan at the upcoming Indo-Pacific Quad (Quadrilateral Dialogue) leaders meeting, to be held in Sydney in June.
In Washington, the concern is growing about the limitations of the US submarine industry and its ability to support Australia’s ambitions to acquire its own nuclear-powered vessels.
Just before Christmas, two influential congressmen raised serious questions about the AUKUS pact, warning Biden that the proposal to help Australia acquire nuclear submarines could damage the US industrial base to “breaking point.”
Last month, the US Navy abruptly halted submarine maintenance work at four West Coast dry docks over possible earthquakes, adding new questions about the country’s ability to assist in the AUKUS.
Marles confirmed this week that the AUKUS announcement was “close” and that it would be a “truly trilateral” solution involving the UK and the US. “You will see it when we announce the optimal path that we have been working on with the United States and the United Kingdom,” he told ABC.
“This is a true trilateral effort for the United Kingdom and the United States to provide Australia with a nuclear-powered submarine.” ABC has contacted Albanese’s bureau for comment, but its representatives have declined to comment.