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Sale of US nuclear submarines stalled

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The nuclear-powered subs are set to be transferred to Canberra as part of the three-way AUKUS pact

Republican lawmakers have blocked a plan to fast-track sales of US attack submarines to Australia, urging the White House to approve additional military spending to expand America’s own fleet.

The move is being led by GOP Senator Roger Wicker, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who outlined his rationale during an interview with Politico on Friday.

“It makes sense to be sure we have enough submarines for our own security needs before we endorse that pillar of the [AUKUS] agreement,” he told the outlet, referring to the submarine sale. “The president needs to submit a supplemental request to give us an adequate number of submarines.”

Though Wicker could not say how much spending would be needed to build additional subs, he added that the White House must also approve “a plan for the industrial base to actually get there.” He said he intends to send a letter to President Joe Biden in the coming days to make his case, alongside fellow Republican Senator Susan Collins. 

In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal last week, Wicker argued that Washington is slated to transfer three nuclear-powered Virginia-class attack submarines to Canberra “even before we have met our own Navy’s requirements,” citing military reports suggesting the Pentagon needs at least 66 subs. Wicker noted that there are currently 49 in the US fleet, calling to step up production to 2.5 Virginia-class submarines per year.

Commenting on the hold-up, Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles suggested he was not concerned by the GOP opposition, saying he was still “very confident” the submarine transfer would go through.

The weapon sale represents one leg of the three-way AUKUS security agreement signed with Australia and the UK in 2021. The deal also aims to facilitate the transfer of nuclear technology from Washington to Canberra with help from London, which will ultimately be used to build nuclear-powered submarines for Australia.

However, the pact has also been described by some officials as a way to deter China, which has condemned the AUKUS deal for helping to proliferate nuclear technology around the globe, warning it would kick off an “arms race” in the Indo-Pacific.

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