Anthony Albanese is expected to detail Australia’s preferred nuclear submarine option on American soil next month, alongside US President Joe Biden and his British counterpart Rishi Sunak – raising the prospect of a potential new boat design involving all three allies.
Planning is underway for the prime minister to travel overseas for the long-awaited AUKUS announcement on an “optimal pathway” to replace the Navy’s ageing Collins-class fleet, with Defence Minister Richard Marles flagging a “genuinely trilateral” solution.
Details of the high-profile event involving three world leaders are yet to be confirmed publicly but anticipation is growing that it will take place in the United States to accommodate President Biden’s schedule.
The ABC understands a precise date for the unveiling is yet to be agreed on, but federal parliament is scheduled to sit for all but the second week of March, meaning Mr Albanese could easily travel between March 10 to 19.
Mr Albanese has already indicated he will visit India, where he has been invited to join Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the fourth cricket test, which begins on March 9.
“Sunak and Albanese would be both willing to travel for the announcement, but at the moment it’s harder for the US president to leave his country,” a figure familiar with the planning discussions has told the ABC.
Mr Albanese is scheduled to host Mr Biden, and the prime ministers of India and Japan for the next Quad Leaders meeting in Sydney in June.
Concerns have been growing in Washington over constraints within America’s submarine industry and its ability to support Australia’s ambitions to acquire nuclear-powered boats of its own.
Just before Christmas, two influential congressmen raised serious concerns about the AUKUS pact, warning Mr Biden the proposal to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines risked harming America’s industrial base to “breaking point”.
Last month, the US Navy abruptly suspended submarine maintenance work at four dry docks on the west coast over possible earthquake concerns, adding fresh doubts over the country’s capacity to help with AUKUS.
Mr Marles this week confirmed the AUKUS announcement was “close” and would be a “genuinely trilateral” solution involving the United Kingdom and United States.
“What you’ll see is when we ultimately do announce the optimal pathway that we’ve been working on with both the United States and the United Kingdom,” he told the ABC.
“It really is, is a genuinely trilateral effort to see both the UK and the US provide Australia with a nuclear-powered submarine capability.”
The ABC has approached Mr Albanese’s office for comment but representatives declined to comment.