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Marles touts AUKUS AI as China threat looms

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles speaks during a joint press conference with the US Defense Secretary and the British Defense Secretary during the AUKUS Defense Ministerial Meeting in California on December 1, 2023. Picture: Josh Edelson / AFP
Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles speaks during a joint press conference with the US Defense Secretary and the British Defense Secretary during the AUKUS Defense Ministerial Meeting in California on December 1, 2023. Picture: Josh Edelson / AFP

Australia, the United Kingdom and America will deploy advanced artificial intelligence to track and surveil submarines in the Asia-Pacific as part of a larger AUKUS-led collaboration to contain threats to democracies in the region, including from a rising China.

Defence Minister Richard Marles announced the hi-tech push alongside his US and UK counterparts Lloyd Austin and Grant Shapps in California on Friday, with the AI systems set to be deployed on maritime patrol aircraft.

“The AUKUS partners have demonstrated and will deploy common advanced artificial intelligence algorithms on multiple systems, including P-8A Maritime Patrol Aircraft, to process data from each nation’s sonobuoys,” the joint statement from the three ministers states.

“These joint advances will allow for timely high-volume data analysis, improving our anti-submarine warfare capabilities.”

A sonobuoy is a small sonar system dropped from aircraft or ships into the ocean and is used in anti-submarine warfare.

The AI-backed tracking system forms part of AUKUS’ “second pillar,” which would see the three democracies share a range of advanced and emerging military tech.

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles meets his American and British counterparts Lloyd Austin (centre) and Grant Shapps (right) at the US Defence Innovation Unit in California for the second AUKUS Defence Ministers’ Meeting. Picture: Supplied
Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles meets his American and British counterparts Lloyd Austin (centre) and Grant Shapps (right) at the US Defence Innovation Unit in California for the second AUKUS Defence Ministers’ Meeting. Picture: Supplied

The joint statement commits to developing quantum technologies for positioning, navigation and timing in military capabilities and a deep space advanced radar capability, which would provide “24-hour continuous, all-weather global coverage to detect, track and identify objects in deep space and increase space domain awareness”.

The first pillar of AUKUS involves Australia’s acquisition of conventionally-armed, nuclear powered submarines, with the government set to shell out up to $368bn in the next three decades to get them.

“For more than a century, the three nations have stood shoulder-to-shoulder, along with other allies and partners, to help sustain peace, stability and prosperity around the world,” the statement reads.

“The Secretaries and Deputy Prime Minister acknowledged that, in the face of an evolving security environment, AUKUS presents a generational opportunity to modernise and enhance longstanding partnerships and co-operation to address global security challenges and contribute to stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.”

Regional presence deployment 2023
Divers from the Toowoomba were injured in an incident in the East China Sea with the Chinese navy.

The meeting of the ministers in Silicon Valley, the epicentre of America’s emerging tech industry, comes just days after the Chinese navy injured Australian navy personnel with underwater sonar in the East China Sea.

Mr Marles said HMAS Toowoomba was operating in international waters when a People’s Liberation Army-navy (PLA-N) destroyer approached, despite communications with Toowoomba.

The Chinese ship activated its sonar, forcing Australian navy divers to exit the water.

“Medical assessments conducted after the divers exited the water identified they had sustained minor injuries likely due to being subjected to the sonar pulses from the Chinese destroyer,” Mr Marles said in a statement.

Mr Marles has slammed the PLA-N ship’s manoeuvre as “unsafe and unprofessional”.

“Australia expects all countries, including China, to operate their militaries in a professional and safe manner,” he said.

The meeting also coincides with a US State Department decision to approve a $3bn sale of AUKUS-related training and training devices to Australia.