UK denies 'fishing' to help make Aust subs

·2-min read

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace says the UK has not gone "fishing" for the opportunity to help build nuclear-powered submarines for Australia, after suggestions France is angered by the move.

His comments follow the announcement of a new defence partnership between the US, the UK and Australia called AUKUS.

The first initiative under AUKUS will be for the allies to put in train the manufacture of nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy.

But that involves Australia torpedoing a $A90 billion deal with a French company to build conventionally powered submarines.

Wallace told Sky News on Thursday: "We didn't go fishing for these opportunities, fundamentally the Australians made a decision they wanted a different capability.

"We have no intention of doing anything to antagonise the French - the French are some of our closest military allies in Europe, we're sizable and comparable forces and we do things together," Wallace said.

"This is about Australia seeking a new capability because it made a judgment it's current acquisition program for a diesel-electric submarine was not going to give it the strategic reach or indeed the undetectability that it would require in delivering a deterrent."

The initial scoping phase for the submarines for Australia is expected to take 18 months, with the UK government predicting the program will "create hundreds of highly skilled scientific and engineering roles" in the UK.

Wallace declined to say the new defence partnership was solely about China but did issue a warning about China's growing military capability.

"China is embarking on one of the biggest military spends and military investments in history, it's growing its navy and air force at a huge rate, extremely fast. Obviously it's engaged in some controversial areas and disputed areas.

"So we've seen that, that is China, that's what they're doing at the moment and it's right that the UK, alongside other allies such as Australia, stand up for the rules-based system and international law."

In a live broadcast from Downing Street, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the AUKUS partnership would make the world safer and help preserve security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

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