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U.S.-U.K.-Australia agreement's impact on Electric Boat yet to be known

It's unclear what the new trilateral defense agreement among the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia will mean for Electric Boat, the Groton shipbuilder’s president told workers in a recent podcast, but the company is "ready to support this endeavor."

The alliance, announced last Wednesday at the White House by President Joe Biden and the prime ministers of the U.K. and Australia, calls for the U.S. and the U.K. to help Australia develop a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. Over the next 18 months, the countries will work together to determine the best way to achieve that goal.

“While this is an exciting partnership, it is in its earliest stages, and plans are still being formed,” Kevin Graney, the EB president, said in the podcast, a transcript of which has been posted online. “There is no specific action we’ve been asked to take at this time. As the only American shipbuilder focused exclusively on the design, construction and maintenance of nuclear-powered submarines, we stand ready to support this endeavor, and have communicated that message to our Navy and government leaders.”

Biden stressed that the partnership, dubbed AUKUS, involves Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered subs armed with conventional weapons.

“I want to be exceedingly clear about this: We’re not talking about nuclear-armed submarines. These are conventionally armed submarines that are powered by nuclear reactors. This technology is proven. It’s safe. And the United States and the U.K. have been operating nuclear-powered submarines for decades,” the president said in his remarks at the White House.

Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, said Australia intends to build its fleet of nuclear-powered submarines in Adelaide, Australia, “in close cooperation with the United Kingdom and the United States.”

The trilateral deal, seen as a counter to China’s increasing assertiveness, has dismayed French officials, whose government stands to lose a contract to supply diesel-electric subs to Australia.

In Congress, eastern Connecticut’s representative, Democrat Joe Courtney, chairs the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, which oversees Navy shipbuilding, and co-chairs the Friends of Australia Caucus, the “go-to” group for interactions between the Australian and U.S. governments.

“The decision today to take the steps towards augmenting the Australian Navy with nuclear-powered submarines is a game-changing move that will dramatically expand the reach of a key ally in a key region,” Courtney said in a statement issued after the trilateral announcement. “... This is a great opportunity for America’s and our allies’ national security mission, and for American manufacturers like Electric Boat, who already provide support to the Australian submarine program today.”

On Monday, in a joint statement with Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who also co-chairs the Friends of Australia Caucus, Courtney said AUKUS will make it easier for the three countries to share information on critical technologies — including nuclear-powered submarines — and help them counter China's influence in the Indo-Pacific.

“While it is too soon to tell what this new alliance will require from us, please remain focused on providing the advantage that helps to protect our sailors, our families and our freedom ...” Graney said in his message to EB workers.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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