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    US Navy Grapples with AUKUS Submarine Delivery Challenges

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    In the face of ambitious commitments under the AUKUS pact, the US Navy finds itself wrestling with production challenges to meet its promises. During a recent congressional hearing, Navy leaders acknowledged the stark reality of the task ahead: ramping up shipbuilding to fulfill an agreement to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.

    The intricacies of this agreement came under scrutiny as members of Congress grilled Navy representatives on the Biden administration’s budget proposal. This plan, controversially, suggests cutting the procurement of Virginia-class submarines by half for the upcoming year—proposing one submarine instead of the pledged two.

    This comes against the backdrop of the United States’ own submarine fleet facing a significant shortfall, with an urgent need to step up production not just to meet its own requirements but also to honor the AUKUS deal.

    The significance of the AUKUS pact cannot be overstated, as it represents a strategic tripartite security agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

    One of the key elements is Australia’s plan to acquire at least three Virginia-class submarines from the US starting in the early 2030s. In turn, Australia has committed to injecting over $4.5 billion to enhance America’s submarine industrial capacity.

    A Virginia-class submarine departs San Diego.” by LockheedMartin19 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, Republican Congressman Trent Kelly, was forthright in his criticism during the Wednesday hearing.

    Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Hawaii” by #PACOM is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    “The decision to include only one Virginia-class submarine in the budget request is not aligned with the two-plus-one cadence that was predicated under the AUKUS agreement,” he stated, emphasizing the need for strong demand signals to maintain international confidence and industrial capabilities.

    The Virginia-class submarine USS Indiana (SSN 789) completed her maiden deployment and returned home to Submarine Base New London.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Nickolas Guertin, the navy’s assistant secretary for research, development, and acquisition, cited a recent review that triggered improvements in shipbuilding but concluded, “we’re not there yet.”

    110623-N-UK333-098 JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (June 23, 2011) The Virginia-class submarine USS Texas (SSN 775) departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a scheduled western Pacific deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ronald Gutridge/Released)

    Guertin’s remarks underscored the gap between current capabilities—approximately 1.3 submarines per year—and the goal of reaching and surpassing two submarines annually to meet AUKUS obligations. “We are making very good strides in that direction,” Guertin reassured, citing workforce training and capacity investments as reasons for optimism.

    The subcommittee also heard from Democratic Congressman Joe Courtney, who shared a memo ahead of the hearing, highlighting the “growing momentum” in the submarine industry.

    Courtney’s concerns were echoed by labor union president Brian Bryant, who wrote to President Joe Biden urging for the prioritization of funding for two Virginia-class submarines a year from 2025 onwards. Bryant stressed the importance of consistent funding for the health of the shipbuilding industry, noting, “A clear market signal of consistent two-per-year funding is absolutely vital.”

    The hearing made clear the challenges the US Navy faces, from skill shortages and supply chain issues exacerbated by the pandemic to the need for procurement stability.

    Navy helicopters deliver payloads to ballistic-missile submarine, increase readiness of strategic forces” by #PACOM is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    The concerns raised during the hearing highlight the difficulties of balancing domestic needs with international commitments, particularly at a time when submarine capabilities are seen as increasingly vital to national security interests in the face of global threats.

    As the US works to navigate these choppy waters, the outcome will not only impact the AUKUS deal but also signal America’s capacity to uphold its defense commitments to allies.

    US Navy submarine – Hampton Roads, Va.” by watts_photos is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The ability to deliver on such high-stakes agreements will likely resonate through the corridors of power across the world, with allies and adversaries alike watching closely.

    Relevant articles:
    America faces a challenge to deliver on AUKUS submarine deal, US Navy head concedes, Australian Broadcasting Corporation
    Here’s how the US Army’s multidomain task force is contributing to AUKUS, Defense News

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