The UK, US and Australia have strengthened their defense partnership by agreeing to work together on hypersonic and anti-hypersonic weapons.
The Australia-UK-US Agreement – or AUKUS – announced last September initially focused on sharing the development of nuclear submarines in the Pacific at a time of growing concern over China.
Now, the three countries have also turned to Russia and added new areas of cooperation, including on hypersonic weapons technology, which was reportedly used recently by Vladimir Putin’s forces in Ukraine.
In a progress update issued jointly by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.
They added: “In light of Russia’s unprovoked, unwarranted and unlawful invasion of Ukraine, we reiterated our unwavering commitment to an international system that respects human rights, the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of disputes without coercion.
The declaration committed the countries to work together on hypersonics and counter-hypersonics as well as electronic warfare capabilities, while expanding information sharing and deepening cooperation on defense innovation.
It comes after Russia said that he had deployed his “Kinzhal” hypersonic missile in Ukraine – a weapon that can fly at 10 times the speed of sound and cannot be reliably tracked or intercepted at that speed by any current defense system.
The United States and China have tested hypersonic weapons and North Korea has claimed to have done so.
In the United States, the $773 billion budget request submitted by the Pentagon last week includes plans for hypersonic missiles.
AUKUS’ latest joint statement says the three countries “will work together to accelerate the development of advanced hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities.”
He also said the countries were pleased with the progress made on the partnership’s initial plan to help the Australian Navy acquire a multiple fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
Last month, Mr Morrison announced plans to create a new submarine base on the east coast of Australia.
London, Washington and Canberra are also looking to work together in cyber and quantum technologies as well as artificial intelligence and robotic submarines – all also areas where Western democracies are battling rival powers to gain the upper hand.
The initial announcement of the AUKUS pact sparked outrage in Paris as the submarine deal supplanted a previous plan for France to supply Australia with diesel-electric boats.