US committee green-lights reforms for AUKUS tech sharing

AUKUS technology transfer is one step closer to reality, with lawmakers in the United States approving draft legislation that incorporates reforms making it easier to issue defence export exemptions to Australia and the United Kingdom.

The powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the amendment to the bipartisan State Department Authorization Act of 2023 on Friday, paving the way for the Biden Administration to issue exemptions once the legislation passes.

It comes just weeks after US State Department officials told the committee that the government had an interim solution and was consulting on legislative changes to “clear a path” for technology sharing and defence trade between AUKUS nations.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with US President Joe Biden after the AUKUS announcement. Image: Twitter

Defence technology export controls, namely the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) regime, are regarded a significant barrier to the AUKUS security pact, particularly efforts to develop emerging technologies under AUKUS Pillar II.

In an address to the National Press Club earlier this year, former American naval chief and now dual use technology venture capitalist Richard Spencer described ITAR as the “biggest speed bump” that must be addressed to facilitate AUKUS collaborations

The amendment approved on Friday “eases the granting of an exemption to commercial export controls for Australia and the UK so long as the Secretary of State certifies that their export control regimes are comparable to that of the United States”.

Should the bill pass, Australia and the UK will also be granted “priority status within the Foreign Military Sales process, including advanced clearance for the transfer of AUKUS-related technologies”, while the US will be able to export defence services to help private sector firms in Australia develop their own submarine industrial base.

The transfer of nuclear powered Virginia- class submarines from the US — one of the major early deliverables of the AUKUS pact for Australia to plug a capability gap left by the Collins-class submarines — is similarly contained in the amendment.

US senator Bob Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the agreed amendment would streamline “the export of US military technology, while ensuring that technology is safeguarded from adversarial espionage”.

“The AUKUS partnership enhances deterrence in the Indo-Pacific and, through the pooling of research and development resources, is spurring innovations in advanced military capabilities,” he said in a statement released on Friday.

Senator Menendez added that he would now work with his “colleagues in both the Senate and House to pass this bill which will cement the AUKUS partnership for decades to come” at a time of “Chinese aggression in the South China Sea”. will host a half-day Capability Papers Showcase forum at Parliament House in Canberra on August 3, highlighting innovation and funding pathways for local dual-use technology providers. Limited seating is available – reserve your place here.

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