In a Post-COVID World, AUKUS Delivers an Opportunity

A month on from the landmark #AUKUS announcement, defence analysts, policymakers, and academics are beginning to ponder what this new trilateral arrangement, amongst old friends, means. The most obvious answer is that Australia, a middle-power and steward in the Indo-Pacific, will gain access to highly guarded nuclear submarine expertise and technologies. The arrangement enables Australia to leapfrog decades of arduous development, deliver a fleet of eight nuclear submarines, and gain the sovereign capability to be truly lethal at range. Washington is particularly keen for Australia to possess this long-range stealth capability and considers it a must in increasingly contested southern oceans. The Biden administration has not been shy in making it known that the US needs Australia to step up and be more than the eyes and ears of the region, but as their closest defence ally be able to act if necessary.

The devil of the arrangement will be in the detail. And, while the detail of #AUKUS is yet to be defined, the tripartite agreement does encompass more than nuclear submarine capability. The agreement brings the best technologies and brightest minds together, under an umbrella of trust, to meet and defeat emerging threats. It is a transformative shift in the sharing of science and technology, including cyber, AI, quantum computing, and hypersonic expertise. There is already dialogue about integrating other like-minded nations, including New Zealand, Canada, and #QUAD countries India and Japan, where appropriate.

Whatever the final mix of nations, it is clear the success of the #AUKUS will be measured in the US, the UK, and Australia’s ability to deliver a practical agenda and deliverable outcomes – long before a predicted 20-year #submarine timeline. There is an agreed sense of urgency and a commitment to deep interoperability that will only be achieved through pooling resources and better integrating defence industry science and supply chains to ensure a technological edge against
21st-century threats.

A shorter ambitious agenda will, in part, require a significant and immediate increase in defence spending, something that Australia and the UK have both already indicated they will do. Australia has tipped defence spending to go from nearly 2% of GDP to above 3% in the years to come. The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has outlined a similar spending increase and touted jobs generation across the UK.

Perhaps, more than at any time since the end of World War II, the strategic interests of the three countries are closely aligned. The UK is looking to pivot from the mess of Brexit and has launched back into the Pacific after 47 years locked in the EU’s protectionist cupboard. However, when the British public was asked what they think about the UK’s Indo-Pacific plan more than 50% were unsure or were opposed to the shift. Australians and Americans may be more agreeable, but all three governments still have a genuine political challenge ahead of them, and that is to justify a jump in their defence budgets. In a post-COVID world, where populations have experienced the hardest two years of their lives, people are heavily scrutinising what their leaders are spending their tax dollars on. All three countries’ business communities have faced uncertainty in supply chains, projects, customers, and profit margins.

#AUKUS must first help to deliver a rules-based order and preserve peace through deterrence.

But in doing so, there is an opportunity to grow small and medium-sized businesses, increase highly skilled local jobs, strengthen supply chains, and provide non-traditional SMEs opportunities to become a part of the overarching mission. This is a genuine economic opportunity that should not be wasted or siloed. It is a chance to think big and modernise #defence forces, grow industry and industry opportunities, and bring the British, Australian, and American people along on the journey too.

We hope this article has set the scene regarding AUKUS and the opportunities it may offer industry, post-COVID, beyond the core nuclear submarine component. Our defence team is always happy to discuss with you how your company can better position itself to become involved in the Defence industry supply chain and help you grow your own business, workforce, and expertise. We will further explore AUKUS through several different lenses, including deep dives into How will AUKUS impact AIC and What does AUKUS mean for sustainment.

Author: Mandy Ross is a government relations and defence industry specialist and proposal specialist with Salentis. She holds a Master of Security and Strategic Studies and a Post Graduate Diploma in Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism. Mandy lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Article published: November 2021

Back to Articles Page