El AUKUS supera un año con posible ampliación a misiles hipersónicos

AUKUS exceeds one year with possible expansion to hypersonic missiles


18 | 01 | 2023


Australian crew has begun training aboard British nuclear-powered submarines

In the image

U.S. President and Prime Ministers of Australia and the United Kingdom announce the formation of the AUKUS in September 2021 [White House].

The governments of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States announced in September 2021 a military cooperation agreement , known as AUKUS, which articulated an alliance in the Indo-Pacific to confront China's increased assertiveness in that region. Although focused on the transfer to Canberra of nuclear-powered submarines, a year later the three signatory countries have left the door open to extending the partnership to other aspects, such as hypersonic missiles and electronic warfare. Beijing claims to perceive such moves as a threat.

On September 15, 2021, the international community was surprised by the advertisement of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of a new cooperation agreement in the Indo-Pacific area, named with the acronym AUKUS for the acronym of the three countries. Washington and London pledged to share advanced defense technology with Canberra to bolster Australia's military capabilities in the face of the increased threats Australia faces from China's growing military assertiveness in the region.

The focus was on the commitment to the technology transfer needed to enable Australia to equip itself with eight nuclear-powered submarines, a technology the U.S. government has not shared since 1958. This will not give the Australians nuclear-level military capability, but it will allow them to make a substantial strategic leap. The agreement also contemplates the three-way partnership to develop cyber, artificial intelligence and quantum technologies capabilities.

This is not the first time that these countries have signed a agreement cooperation agreement of this kind. There are other pacts, such as UKUSA, which emerged after World War II to control the Soviet Union's communications with the Eastern Bloc, and which grouped the three AUKUS countries together with Canada and New Zealand to promote joint cooperation in subject signals intelligence. The close partnership between the intelligence headquarters of these five countries is known as the "Five Eyes".

However, the advertisement was greeted with surprise because it introduced an element of greater tension in the Indo-Pacific by articulating a clear front of allies to China (the QUAD, formed by the US, India, Japan and Australia, has moved more quietly in its response to Beijing) and because Canberra broke a previous agreement with Paris for the manufacture of submarines.

China and France made no secret of their unease. Although China was not explicitly mentioned in the advertisement creating the AUKUS, the anti-Chinese purpose of the alliance was clear. Beijing said that the agreement had the "obsolete Cold War mentality". France, for its part, claimed to feel cheated both by Australia, with which since 2016 it had agreed to build 12 Shotfin Barracuda submarines, valued at between €50 billion and €56 billion, and by the US, which knowing about that previous agreement had completely ignored it.

Expansion of cooperation

A year later, the French have had to calm their anger, but the Chinese maintain their belligerence against what they perceive as an expressed threat, which is also growing with time. In April 2022, the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia issued an statement in which they expressed a desire to "begin a new trilateral cooperation" that would extend the pact to hypersonic and anti-hypersonic and electronic warfare capabilities. They also announced the purpose to "expand the exchange of information and deepen cooperation on defense innovation." The statement opened the door to future partnership to other partners and allies. "As our work progresses in these and other critical defense and security capabilities, we will look for opportunities to engage allies and close partners," it stated. The commitment to equip Australia with a fleet of nuclear submarines was further confirmed by the training of an Australian crew on HMS Anson, the latest of Britain's class Astute submarines.

The recent development of hypersonic missiles, capable of speeds in excess of 6,000 km/h, is already a burning issue in the area, being perhaps the first challenge to be faced by the newborn AUKUS pact. On October 12, 2022, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Bali bombings, Indonesia's ambassador to Australia, Siswo Pramono, made this reality clear, stating that "we must have more dialogue to prevent the very expensive degree program of hypersonic weaponry in the region."

This hypersonic weaponry degree program has not only begun, but has already experienced notable milestones. For example, in 2013 the Boeing X-51 "Waverider" unmanned aircraft, capable of hypersonic speeds, was successfully developed. On a parallel development , its Russian armament equivalent, the 3M22 Tsirkon, is already fully operational. Moreover, in mid-October 2021, i.e. shortly after advertisement of the AUKUS, various media claimed that China conducted, during the summer of 2021, tests that could demonstrate the possession of intercontinental hypersonic missiles, a fact that seriously unsettled the US administration. In this context, tensions between China and Taiwan flared up in the summer of 2022.

More recently, the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) successfully carried out a test with the HAWC (Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept) hypersonic scramjet missile.

Russia has decided to play hard in this field. In the first days of 2023 the Kremlin announced the launching of the frigate 'Admiral Gorshkov' equipped with Tsirkon missiles, which was starting a single voyage in the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, "during the exercises and training, the crew will rehearse the actions of using hypersonic weapons and long-range missiles from Wayside Cross ". 

The formation of the AUKUS did not please Moscow. Although it avoided a harsh pronouncement at the time, its reports conveyed concern and criticized the agreement as a potential violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Treaty of Rarotonga as one of the nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ) and New START. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has made it clear that the AUKUS does not violate international provisions; however, its president, Rafael Grossi, has expressed particular concerns about the potential for further confrontation between the powers. In response to these fears, on September 23, 2022, the tripartite alliance issued a joint statement assuring its commitment to the defense of the values of democracy: freedom, the rule of law and respect for the inalienable rights of the human being.