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AUKUS Defense Ministers Joint Press Briefing

STAFF:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you so much for joining us for today's AUKUS Defense Ministers Joint Press Briefing. 

It is my pleasure to introduce U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin III, Australia Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Richard Marles, and the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defence, Grant Shapps.

Each of the Ministers will deliver opening remarks, and then we'll have time to take a few questions.  Please note that I will moderate those questions and call on journalists.

With that, Secretary Austin, the floor is yours, Sir.


And good afternoon, everyone.  Let me start by thanking Deputy Prime Minister Marles and Secretary Shapps for coming to California for our second AUKUS Defense Ministerial Meeting.

And it was definitely worth the trip.  We had a very productive and wide-ranging session.  And today, just underscores that AUKUS is a once in a generation opportunity that will promote peace and security throughout the INDOPACIFIC.

The Department remains deeply focused on the INDOPACIFIC and AUKUS underscores that fact.  For more than two years, our defense forces, industries and scientific communities have led this historic endeavor.   

In March, our three democracies boldly launched the optimal pathway for Australia to acquire conventionally armed nuclear powered submarines.  And today, we highlighted the important progress that we've made to see that plan through.  I'm very proud of the sailors from our three countries who are seamlessly training together across our trilateral partnership.

This year, six officers from the Royal Australian Navy graduated from U.S. Nuclear Power School, and more are on track to graduate in early 2024.  Now, these proud officers and sailors will be the first to operate Australia's conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarines.

As part of the optimal pathway, we're also working to increase the frequency of U.S. SSN port visits to Australia.  This directly supports President Biden's commitment to ensure that Australia acquires this new submarine capability at the earliest possible date, while meeting the highest standard of nuclear non-proliferation.

The Ministers and I also reviewed our major accomplishments within the crucial second pillar of AUKUS, and through Pillar 2, we have leveraged our respective defense innovation and industry sectors to develop and deliver advanced capabilities so that our war fighters can hear, see, and act with decisive advantage.

We're innovating with cutting edge tech in several areas, including artificial intelligence, electronic warfare, and quantum technology.  And by implementing strong standards of technology protection, we are reducing barriers to sharing information and technology.

And we're streamlining our processes to deliver these capabilities and lead our partnership forward for the next generation.

Today, we endorsed several new efforts under Pillar 2 of AUKUS. Let me highlight two of these efforts.  The first is a maritime autonomous experimentation and exercise.  At the beginning of next year, our three countries will conduct a series of integrated trilateral experiments and exercises.

They will enhance capability development, improve our interoperability and rapidly accelerate with sophistication and scale of autonomous maritime systems that we can deploy and operate together.

And second, is an AUKUS Innovation Challenge Series.  That will mean that companies from across our three countries can compete for a common innovation challenge prize that will help our warfighters improve interoperability, gain decision advantage, and strengthen our deterrence.

But these challenges will begin in early 2024, with a prize challenge focusing on electronic warfare. 

Again and again, AUKUS proves that we are stronger together.  And every day, we move closer to our shared vision of a free and open INDOPACIFIC. 

So, Deputy Prime Minister Marles and Secretary Shapps, I'm truly grateful for your leadership and your friendship and for everything that you're doing for our shared security.

I look forward to strengthening our partnership even further and to building a more secure future together.


AUSTRALIAN MINISTER OF DEFENCE RICHARD MARLES:  Well, thank you Lloyd.  Thank you for hosting us here today and it is great to see you and it is great to see you, Grant, here in California.   

And we have had a very productive day in this Trilateral AUKUS Defense Ministers' Meeting. 

And as we reflect today on what has happened in the last 12 months since we met as a group in Washington D.C. in December of last year, it has been a truly momentous year, where there has been an enormous amount of progress, particularly in respect of Australia acquiring a nuclear powered submarine capability, with the help of the United States and United Kingdom under Pillar 1 of AUKUS.

In March of this year, we saw the announcement of the pathway by which this would be achieved, which was a breakthrough moment in terms of Australia's defense capability.  And since then, we've seen the standing up of the Australian Submarine Agency. 

We have seen the commitment of infrastructure work, we have seen Australians undertake, both submariners and defense industry workers, here in United States, as Grant — as Lloyd mentioned, the nuclear power school, but also in the United Kingdom.

We have seen importantly, the legislative work proceed to enable this to happen in both of our countries.  We've seen the frequency, as we promised back in March, of visits of the United States nuclear powered submarine happen to Australia.  Indeed, in the last 12 months, we've seen the USS Mississippi, the USS Ashville, and the USS North Carolina visit our country. 

And we look forward in the future, to seeing more of those visits, including visits of the Astute-class submarines from the United Kingdom. 

But as we reflect on that year past, we are also making very important announcements today about the future in respect of Pillar 1.  Next year, we'll see the most significant maintenance occur in Australia of the United States nuclear powered submarine, which we plan to happen in the third quarter of next year, which will crystalize the development that needs to be occurring, in terms of both infrastructure and skills within our workforce and our submariner base.

So, we are really pleased about the progress in respect of all of that and it is an enormous amount of work, which has occurred over the course of the last 12 months. 

But significantly in terms of today's meeting, it is actually Pillar 2 which has taken center stage, and indeed, I think today's meeting will be regarded as a critical moment in the history of Pillar 2 of AUKUS, and that is the sharing and development of advanced technologies between our three countries.

We're putting in place the architecture, which will enable that to happen through the International Joint Requirement Oversight Council, which will give a joint capacity to look at the technologies with which we are pursuing.

And our armaments directors will be working together with a tabletop exercise next year, and as Lloyd mentioned, our innovation organizations, the Defense Innovation Unit of both the United States and United Kingdom, along with the Australian Strategic Capabilities Accelerator, working together on joint challenges, which we'll see initially that happen in the space of electronic warfare.

And again, the legislative environment, which is being worked on in our countries is creating a seamless defense industrial base between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which is so essential to seeing AUKUS Pillar 2 become operational.

But, in terms of that architecture, today we are backing it up with practical first steps where specific technologies are being worked on.  And we are announcing a significant number of those today, which include work on quantum clock, which includes the deep space advanced radar capability in our three countries and includes resilient artificial intelligence, which in turn will give rise to resilient precision targeting. 

All of these are practical steps forward, which come on the back of an architecture, which has been stablished today in relation to Pillar 2.  And I think when we look back at the significance of today's meeting, we will see this as the critical meeting, which was a watershed in the progress of Pillar 2 of AUKUS.

Across all of our work, Pillar 1 and Pillar 2, across the friendships that exist between the three of us personally, what is really clear is that AUKUS represents a powerful combination of countries working together, which is sending a really important message to the world. 

I think all of us have remarked on the fact that together, when we are meeting, when we are discussing these technologies, when we are taking these steps down the path, each of our countries is much stronger.

U.K. SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENCE GRANT SHAPPS:  Thank you very much, Lloyd, Richard.  It's 80 years since the U.S. Navy shot down an enemy dive bomber off Cape Hunter on the south coast of Guadalcanal, and nothing particularly unusual, it was the Second World War going on at the time, but what was remarkable about that particular navy destroyer was that the fighter — the actual missile that hit would hit it without a direct hit.  It missed in effect. 

So, this is actually a piece of fateful artillery that destroyed that particular item, but the shell itself was revolutionary, because the 15-centimeter fuse was capable of detonating when it was close to the target.  So, in a sense, it missed but it also hit — the tiny proximity fuse not only helped win that particular battle, but it also helped to turn the tide of that war.

And this miniature miracle was only possible because of a different type of fusion, and that was, you guessed it between Australia, the UK and the United States.  It was actually developed by a brilliant Australian scientist, William Butement, who was in London developing it, and the fuse was then transferred to the United States, where it turned into this tremendous game changer.

And today, in a much more dangerous world, with Russia waging war in Ukraine, with Hamas wreaking havoc in the Middle East, China undermining the freedom of navigation in the INDOPACIFIC, we've never had a greater need for more innovation to be more pioneering, which is why over the past few years, AUKUS has been fusing together our transnational brain power.

And here, at the Defense Innovation Unit, we've discussed the results — a raft of game-changing new AUKUS projects.  Together, our nations will be launching and recovering undersea vehicles from torpedo tubes on current submarines, will be enabling us to deliver more sophisticated strike intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. 

We'll be using quantum technologies just mentioned, to support global positioning, enhancing the ability of our undersea capabilities, including on our future SSN AUKUS submarines so they can stay silent and undetected, and sharing in not only all of this — not only with multiple undersea systems, but with our P-8A maritime patrol aircraft, strengthening our capacity to zero in on potential dangers.

I think the inventor of that artillery shell, Dr. Butement would have been proud of what we've been talking about today.  The man they dubbed at the time, Mr. Searchlight Radar would have certainly appreciated another landmark agreement that we are signing today, because in the coming years, our nations will be creating a global radar network, bringing together three ground based stations, one in each of our countries.

Radar is more sensitive, more accurate, more powerful and agile than anything that has gone before, giving us the ability to see beyond the clouds and to detect, identify and track in space, up to 22,000 miles away.

Operational by 2029, that's — this new initiative, alongside AUKUS won't just help us to protect our communications and our navigation satellites from deadly threats tomorrow, but will boost all three of our economies.

Back in 1943, our brightest minds proved that geography was in fact no barrier to our innovation, as long as our values and our ingenuity was in close proximity, and 80 years on, inspired by the creators of that miraculous invention, our alliance is once again, fusing our intelligence together, sparking new capabilities from sea to space and igniting the ideas that will change the course of our history.

So, Lloyd, Richard, that's why I've enjoyed our conversation so much this afternoon.  We said we were going to ensure that Pillar 2 was meaningful, that it would change the way that we work together, and today, we've set that course and I'm delighted to be working with you both.

Thank you. 

STAFF:  Thank you very much, gentlemen. 

Our first question will go to Associated Press Lolita Baldor.

Q:  Hi, thank you.  I'm Lolita Baldor with the Associated Press.  To the two ministers, you both talked a bit about the various types of technology that you agreed on today, radars, the deep-space equipment and sonobuoys — can you tell us what specifically your countries are looking at in terms of what you think one of the top priorities is for improving your military capabilities through this? 

What would be something that you were really hoping to key in on?  What aspect of it? 

And Mr. Secretary, for you, if you want to answer that question also, but several questions for you – today as you know the truce in Israel ended.  Do you believe Israel has been taking the American warnings about civilian casualties seriously?  Are you — or are you concerned that even hours after the truce ended, there were about 75 deaths already in Gaza?

SEC. AUSTIN:  I'll start if you want. Let me just lead with that question on Israel.  Just want to remind all of us how this started, October 7th Hamas launched a very brutal attack into Israel, took the lives of over 1,200 Israelis, took over 200 hostages, which included small children and Holocaust survivors, and so we have said a number of times, that we will continue to support Israel's right to defend itself.

Now, I'll let Israel speak for their operations.  What I will tell you Lita, is you know - I talk to Minister Gallant on a near daily basis as you know and each time I talk to him, I remind him of the necessity to make sure that they are protecting innocent civilians and creating pathways and corridors for civilians to move out of the battle space.

And they need to make sure that they're doing things to ensure civilian safety.  So, that's — that conversation is ongoing on a near daily basis.  We're going to continue to work with Israel and Egypt and Qatar on efforts to reimplement the pause. 

And I think the pause — during the pause, you know, we got some very meaningful things done in terms of a number of hostages out of Gaza.  Plus, we've been able to introduce a meaningful amount of humanitarian assistance.  More needs to be done for sure, but it's encouraging to see that we've been able to ramp up the amount that we've moved into Gaza. 

One of the conditions for the pauses to continue — an Israeli condition, was that Hamas be able to provide at least 10 hostages for release each day.  And they've, at this point, failed to produce names or hostages for — you know, upcoming days.

And I would also remind you that we've seen things like a brutal terrorist attack recently on the part of Hamas in Jerusalem, so Hamas has violated the very conditions that they agreed to.  So, again, this remains dynamic.

We'll continue to do everything we can to emphasize to the Israelis, the necessity to operate within the law of war, but also protect civilians in the battle space.

MIN. MARLES:  Well, perhaps in answer to the first part of your question, you know, Australia is an island nation, which is geographically relatively distant from other parts of the world.  And so, our needs lie in maritime capabilities, but longer range capabilities, capabilities which enable us to project. 

And so, having strike capabilities are really important and when you look at something like resilient precision targeting, which was part of the announcements today, that is critically important. 

When you look at the maritime autonomy measures that are contained in the announcements today, that's hugely beneficial for a country like Australia. 

I think the third area, which is covered by the specific technologies, which have been described in the announcements is decision advantage.  You know, a decision advantage in terms of the time it takes to make a decision in the battle space, but also the fidelity of information that is therefore the decision maker.  That's obviously critically important to any defense forces and it is to ours. 

So, when we look at the technologies that we are working on as three countries, they are highly relevant to the specific needs of the Australian Defense Force.

SEC. SHAPPS:  And to the same question about which element of it — of course, we've had nuclear subs running for nearly six decades under the sea in the United Kingdom and you can (inaudible). So Pillar 2 things which are exciting, well there's a huge number to go after, artificial intelligence and autonomy, cyber, electronic warfare, hypersonic and counter-hypersonic technology, quantum technology, undersea warfare to name but a few. Simple answer to your question is it's hard to know which of those will end up being the most relevant, we can't see the future, but partly and I was reflecting on this evening given that Kissinger has just passed away, he once remarked no country can act wisely simultaneously in every part of the globe at every moment in time. 

And I was saying in our meeting that's why three wise heads put together are surely better than one.  And I’m excited about all these developments, and I can't tell you which one in the long run I should be most excited about today.  That is the purpose of working together.

STAFF:  Thank you. 

Our next question will go to Channel 9 News Australia, Jonathan Kearsley.

Q:  Thank you very much Brigadier General.  I'm Jonathan Kearsley, Channel 9 Australia.  Secretary and Ministers, thanks very much for your time today.

I wanted to go to initially China's raising aggression —  we've seen sonar attacks on Australian Navy divers, we've seen Chinese Coast Guard vessels ramming into Philippine Navy vessels.  Are these the types of issues firstly that need to be raised directly at the leader to leader level? 

Has it increased your need for urgency in formulating your agreements particularly around some of these aspects and increasing the urgency in bringing that partnership together a lot faster?           

And finally, if I may, AUKUS is an agreement that is designed to last, you've described as generational. Donald Trump is running for President of the United States.  He's a man notorious for walking America away from key international agreements, as he expressed, his desire on a number of aspects around that, how concerned are you that AUKUS could be sunk if there is a change in American leadership?

SEC. AUSTIN:  I'm confident that President Biden's going to win the next election.  And — and I will remain confident of that.

I would tell you that what we're working on here is, as you pointed out, a generational capability.  We have common goals and objectives, foremost among those goals and objectives is to ensure that we maintain a free and open INDOPACIFIC.  Our values are similar and we have longstanding working relationships with each other.

I continue to see bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress for AUKUS, and it's that support that I think for us, success going forward.  So, again, I'm very confident that we'll be able to work together on this very, very important issue, and again, I think both — all three of our countries see the value in the — you know, long term capability that this is going to create for us.

MIN. MARLES:  Jon, to go to your first part of your question, the incident that occurred on (inaudible) the with HMAS Toowoomba was on the part of the PLA Navy unsafe and unprofessional. That is a matter we’ve raised directly with China (inaudible). It's important that we made this public and those representations have been made very clearly to China.     

In terms of the — you know, what does that say about the environment that we're operating in and the importance of moving at a pace in terms of our work?  I mean the answer is it absolutely highlights the need for this arrangement and it absolutely highlights the need for speed in this arrangement and I think you can see that speed.

But when you look at where we were 12 months ago, compared to where we are today, it is a huge leap forward, in terms of the work that we've done on Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarine capability, which for our country, represents the biggest leap forward in military capability in more than a century.

And you know, the fact that we've now been able to identify that pathway that I said earlier, we stood up the relevant agencies, we're seeing infrastructure work be commenced and our workforce being trained, the visits happening. 

This is moving fast, but what does happen — well firstly, though, in terms of acquiring that capability, it will change the character of Australia in terms of what we are capable of doing.  And that does not happen by the night.  There is no showroom where you can go and buy a — a Virginia Class submarine.  We are acquiring the capability to operate and build nuclear powered submarines in Australia.

It will be the biggest industrial endeavor that we have ever undertaken as a nation, and it is not going to happen overnight.  But I’ll tell you what does happen overnight.  The fact of — that our three countries standing here right now, meeting in the way that we are, making the plans that we are making and walking down this path together, represents an enormous deterrent effect immediately.  It sends a very, very powerful message to the world and a very important message to the world.    

And as for the final part of your question, we are completely confident that the American system, as I might say, we are about the British system and indeed our own, for this reason, that across the three countries, there is bipartisan support for this arrangement. 

That's actually what gives power — by virtue of that bipartisan support across our three nations, we can confidently say that when the three of us are not standing here at some point in the future and there are three other individuals, they will be pursuing the same objectives.

And in respect of the U.S. specifically, you know, I've had the opportunity of being on Capitol Hill in the last few weeks to talk to lawmakers around the legislation, which is currently progressing through the U.S. Congress. 

And as Lloyd has said, across the political spectrum, there is both a commitment to the alliance between Australia and the United States and support for it, there is commitment to AUKUS and the relationship between our three countries.  And you know, I think there is strong support for the specifics, which is in that legislative package.

But that ought to give everyone in Australia an enormous sense of confidence that this is an arrangement and a set of relationships, which genuinely does enjoy support across the political spectrum in the U.S., as I know it does in Britain as it certainly does in Australia.

SEC. SHAPPS:  Actually, I've been on Capitol Hill unrelated in a separate visit last month — very, very strong support for AUKUS, and so I've every confidence in — as — as Richard says in AUKUS.  On your actual point, navigation of the — of the open seas under international law is something the United Kingdom takes incredibly seriously. 

We regularly and consistently are in the Pacific and will continue to be so, we already announced plans to send our carrier strike group led by the Queen Elizabeth Class — again, following a visit previously, it'd be very important in the context of AUKUS actually just to be absolutely clear that the — those international rules are there for a reason you know, the UK London to the International Maritime Organization takes this particular right of free passage very, very seriously.

AUKUS is a fantastic way to make that clear to everybody.

Q:  And just one last on a specific aspect. Do these incidents that occur in the South China Sea and the INDOPACIFIC more broadly. Do these incidents need to be raised directly to…

SEC. SHAPPS:  Yes, eventually — there are always diplomatic processes to do that because the same in the air and other circumstances with — with Russia for example, so these — these issues always raised — there's a professional way to behave and act in the air, in the sea and when countries breach those professional, it's an actual professional pride for those navy's for one thing and — and we are absolutely calling them out on it. 

But no one should be under the impression that any of us are prepared to be kind of bullied out of waters, which are clearly international waters for all to sail under international law. 

STAFF:  Thank you very much, gentlemen. 

Our final question will go to NBC News, Robert Handa.

Q:  Can I — can I ask you, Minister Marles, you say that this is moving fast, is it right that you've indicated today that an East Coast base for the nuclear subs will not be selected till the end of — until the end of the decade?  Do we really need six years to make that decision?  And are you kicking the can down the road on something that's politically (inaudible)?

MIN. MARLES:  Well, we've made that position clear before today, that the timing in which to determine the East Coast base is at the end of this decade.  And we made that clear at the time that we articulated the pathway by which Australia would acquire a nuclear powered submarine capability. 

I mean it will be an important decision, but in the sequence of decisions that needs to be made, that's when it comes up.  And you know, there will be other decisions that need to be made, such as where we will locate — the place that we will ultimately dispose the nuclear reactors, that's clearly going to be a difficult decision, but in turn, that's a decision which come later again.

This is a matter of laying out the pathway and following it.  Right here and right now, we are evolving an industrial capability to build nuclear powered submarines out of the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide. 

We are evolving an operational capacity to operate and maintain nuclear powered submarines out of HMS Sterling in Rockingham, south of Perth.  We have — you know, the first step was about having an increased number of nuclear powered submarine visits to HMS Sterling, which is happening as we speak. 

And as I articulated — you know, the next step in that will occur next year, as a result of the meeting that we've had today.    

So, each of these is about working through the steps of the pathway that we articulated last March and the determination of the location for an East Coast base is going to be a big decision, but it's a decision which is to be made in the late 2020's and we're going to work through each of the decisions as they happen.

STAFF:  Gentlemen, thank you so much. 

Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes our press briefing for today.

Thank you again for joining us.