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Australia to Gain Priority Access to US Military Equipment Under Washington Proposal

Australian requests for US military equipment would be handled faster than almost all applications “other than from Taiwan and Ukraine” under a proposal before the US Senate.

The Australian government has long viewed the complex web of US export controls as a potential barrier to the Aukus security partnership.

But US senators are pushing to ease export control bottlenecks, as well as demanding regular reports on how measures under the Aukus deal are “strengthening the United States strategic position in Asia”.

The Aukus deal extends beyond the high-profile project for Australia to acquire eight nuclear-powered submarines. The US and the UK also want to collaborate on advanced capabilities such as hypersonic weapons, quantum technologies, artificial intelligence and undersea technologies.

Australia has generally preferred to push for export-control reforms out of the public eye, although a Defence official made unusually frank comments in May about “a permafrost layer of middle management”.

Under a proposal that has garnered bipartisan support in the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Australia and the UK would gain priority access to transfer defence equipment and services related to Aukus.

The legislation – proposed by the committee chair, Bob Menendez – says the US president should ensure such requests “receive expedited consideration and processing relative to all other letters of request other than from Taiwan and Ukraine”.

The proposal is to be added to the annual Department of State Authorization Act.

Elsewhere, the proposed legislation argues the US should be proactive and not necessarily wait for letters of request.

The administration, it says, should draw up “a list of advanced military platforms, technologies, and equipment that are pre-cleared and prioritized for sale and release to Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada”.

The legislation also sets up a process to exempt Aukus countries from licensing and approval requirements, so long as the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, makes an assessment that those countries have export controls comparable to US standards.

Under Menendez’s proposal, the US administration would have to submit a report to congressional committees every two years setting out progress on Aukus.

It says the report should identify “the defensive military capability gaps and capacity shortfalls that the Aukus partnership seeks to offset” and the total costs to the US of the submarine project.

Congressional committees would also be seeking “a detailed explanation of how enhanced access to the industrial base of Australia is contributing to strengthening the United States strategic position in Asia”.

The report would provide a “detailed explanation of the military and strategic benefit provided by the improved access provided by naval bases of Australia”.

It would include “a detailed assessment of how Australia’s sovereign conventionally armed nuclear attack submarines contribute to United States defense and deterrence objectives in the Indo-Pacific region”.

Kurt Campbell, the White House Indo-Pacific coordinator, told a thinktank last month: “When submarines are provided from the United States to Australia, it’s not like they’re lost. They will just be deployed by the closest possible allied force.”

However, the Australian government has repeatedly said it will maintain sovereign control of the submarines, including at least three Virginia-class submarines that it will buy from the US in the 2030s.

While Aukus has bipartisan support in the US, it remains unclear what version of the legislation will make it to the president’s desk for signing.

Menendez said his amendment “streamlines the export of US military technology, while ensuring that technology is safeguarded from adversarial espionage”.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in both the Senate and House to pass this bill which will cement the Aukus partnership for decades to come,” he said in a statement last week.

Aukus will be on the agenda when Blinken and the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, travel to Australia for annual talks with foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, and defence minister, Richard Marles.

The meeting will be held in Brisbane late next week. Marles and Austin are due to travel to north Queensland afterwards to watch troops participating in the Talisman Sabre exercise.

Marles told ABC TV on Wednesday there had been “a significant move forward in terms of force posture initiatives in Australia”, including the planned rotation of US submarines in Western Australia from 2027.

Source : The Guardian