In September 2021, the U.S., Australia and the U.K. announced a new partnership, AUKUS, meant to strengthen alliances and security, especially in the Indo-Pacific. In March, plans for moving forward on the first pillar of that new partnership were announced. This involves delivering a conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability to Australia.
On Capitol Hill yesterday, Mara Karlin, assistant secretary of defense for strategies, plans, and capabilities, discussed further implications of AUKUS — including its second pillar, which involves enhancing joint capabilities and interoperability.
On the Hill, Karlin touched on how AUKUS fits into the National Defense Strategy; how the Defense Department is seizing what Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III called the "generational opportunity" AUKUS presents; and why the U.S. must work to expand defense cooperation with its closest allies and partners.
The 2022 National Defense Strategy describes China as the United States’ most consequential strategic competitor, Karlin said.
"The National Defense Strategy describes integrated deterrence as a holistic response to the strategies that our competitors are pursuing and directs the use of campaigning to gain military advantage," Karlin said. "It calls on the Department of Defense to build enduring advantages across the defense ecosystem to shore up our foundations for integrated deterrence and campaigning."
Karlin told lawmakers that the strategy describes allies and partners as a "center of gravity" for its implementation.
"What is needed now more than ever before is an approach that enhances our AUKUS partner's conventional military capabilities, opens support to a more integrated defense industrial base, increases information sharing, and implements cooperative policies that reflect the concepts laid out in the national security strategy," Karlin said. "What cannot be overstated is this: We cannot do this alone, and our AUKUS partners stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States, as they have for many decades."
Development of new technologies, Karlin said, are critical to U.S. defense and to the defense of AUKUS partners. The AUKUS partnership will create opportunities for cooperation that will advance the development and availability of those new technologies.
"As President [Joe] Biden and Secretary Austin have said, AUKUS is a generational opportunity," Karlin said. "Together with our AUKUS partners, we have identified several advanced capability opportunities in areas that range from artificial intelligence and quantum to hypersonics. Over time, the work we do will advance our own capabilities, as well as our partners’, and will enable us to address the challenges that we will collectively face.
Today more than ever, she said, there is a not only a benefit, but an imperative to expand defense technology-sharing practices, and AUKUS will be a part of that.
The AUKUS partnership, Karlin said, also provides an opportunity to streamline defense cooperation and to identify sticking points that make information or technology sharing a challenge.
"We need to widen the aperture; foster collaborative defense innovation; advance military interoperability with our allies and partners; and leverage our collective strengths as a force multiplier," Karlin said. "AUKUS has provided a lens into not only what military capabilities our closest allies need, but also what barriers exist that hamper pursuit of our integrated national security strategy and how we need to adapt our approach to meet our national security objectives."
The administration, Karlin told lawmakers, plans to consult with Congress on legislative changes that will allow increased exemptions to licensing requirements for AUKUS partners and make easier the transfer of both unclassified and classified defense articles and services.
"This bold approach is critical to ensuring the AUKUS partnership continues to innovate and to progress to meet the challenges of the global security environment," she said.