The fevered anticipation about which nuclear submarines Australia will acquire and where they will be built is understandable. It’s a decades long program worth hundreds of billions of dollars. The AUKUS arrangements bind the interests its partners, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The announcement at the US Navy facilities at San Diego is all about the submarines, the first pillar of AUKUS.
But just as important are further details about the second pillar, which is focused on cooperative development between the AUKUS partners on Advanced Capabilities.
The AUKUS pillar two covers a vast array of strategic technologies, most of which could be regarded as general technologies, or dual-use technologies.
These technologies, which include things like quantum computing and artificial intelligence, provide enormous strategic advantage in both a Defence setting as well as commercial environments.
Just how these co-operations and collaborations are managed between the AUKUS partners in relation to commercial exploitation has created intense interest in Australia.
There are huge potential opportunities in areas where Australia has significant research depth. This includes access not only to research resources, but also customers and supply chain partners.
But there are risks, of course. Australia is a significant player in some areas of critical technologies identified by the AUKUS partners. But the power relationship in the information sharing arrangements of AUKUS is not equal.
The AUKUS partners talk about the “trilateral lines of effort” within these areas critical to defence and security capability – and the plan to seek to engage allies and other close partners where it makes sense.
The commercialisation of these technologies, either in civil applications or in the sale of tech into Defence supply chains, will be immensely valuable.
Access to the talent and resources of vast defence industries of the US and UK – and the publicly funded resources directed at them – can accelerate the development of Australian tech.
Whether Australia is able to capture a reasonable share of the commercial value from these efforts is an open question.
There are eight Advanced Capabilities identified by the AUKUS leadership:
Undersea capabilities. An AUKUS Undersea Robotics Autonomous Systems (AURAS) project is collaborating on autonomous underwater vehicles. This is planned as a significant force multiplier for our maritime forces. Initial trials and experimentation of this capability are planned for this year.
Quantum technologies. The AUKUS Quantum Arrangement (AQuA) will accelerate investments to deliver generation-after-next quantum capabilities. The group has an initial focus on quantum technologies for positioning, navigation, and timing.
Artificial intelligence and autonomy. Trilateral cooperation on artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomy will provide critical enablers for future capabilities. It would improve the speed and precision of decision-making to defend against AI-enabled threats.
Advanced Cyber. In light of the importance of the cyber domain to advanced capabilities, efforts are focused on strengthening cyber capabilities.
Hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities. The AUKUS partners are working to accelerate development of advanced hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capability.
Electronic warfare. The electromagnetic spectrum is increasingly contested. AUKUS partners are working together to share understanding of tools, techniques, and technology to to operate in contested and degraded environments.
Innovation. AUKUS innovation aims to accelerate defence innovation enterprises across the partners. This includes more rapid integration of commercial technologies to solve warfighting needs.
Information sharing. The partners are working to expand and accelerate sharing of sensitive information.
The devil is always in the detail. And the past 18 months literal armies of people have been working on the detail.
We will be one of the many in Australia watching and listening to the detail with interest.
Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.
War is good for humanity? Weapons are the purpose of tech? Greater ability to kill people is good news for Australian commerce? Not in my opinion. I like peace and the technologies that will stop the Extinction Event. Just saying …. maybe we could do that instead?