MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) — From underwater drones to electronic warfare, the United States is expanding high-tech military cooperation with Australia and the United Kingdom to counter China’s rapidly growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with defense chiefs from Australia and the United Kingdom at the U.S. military’s Defense Technology Center in Silicon Valley on Friday to negotiate a new agreement to improve technology cooperation and information sharing. According to a joint statement, the goal is to better address global security challenges, ensure everyone can defend themselves against rapidly evolving threats, and “contribute to stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.”

Austin met with Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles and British Defense Minister Grant Shapps at the Defense Innovation Unit headquarters.

At a news conference after the meeting, Austin said the effort would, for example, rapidly accelerate the advancement of drone systems and prove that “we are stronger together.”

The new technology agreement is the next step in expanded military cooperation with Australia, first announced in 2021. The three nations have put forward plans for the so-called AUKUS partnership to equip Australia with a fleet of eight nuclear submarines. AUKUS is an abbreviation for Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Under the deal, Australia will purchase three Virginia-class submarines from the United States and build five new AUKUS-class submarines in cooperation with Britain. The submarines, powered by U.S. nuclear technology, would carry no nuclear weapons and would be built in Adelaide, Australia, with the first completed around 2040.

Marles said there has been tremendous progress in the submarine program. He added that as an island nation, Australia had a need for improved maritime drones and precision strike capabilities.

And Shapps said that with China “undermining freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific, we have never had a greater need for more innovation.” He said open navigation on the seas, including in the Pacific and the South China Sea , is crucial.

Australian Navy officers have already begun receiving nuclear power training at U.S. military schools, officials said.

The US also announced earlier this year that it would expand its military-industrial base by helping Australia produce guided missiles and missiles for both countries within two years. Under this agreement, they would cooperate on the production of guided multiple rocket systems in Australia until 2025.

The increased cooperation between the nations has been driven by growing concerns about China’s rising defense spending and rapidly expanding military presence in the region. Last year, Beijing signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands and promised to set up a Chinese naval base there.

The U.S. has consistently cited China as its most pressing challenge and has increased U.S. troop presence, military exercises and other activities in the region. U.S. relations with China have been strained in recent years over trade, U.S. support for self-ruled Taiwan, Beijing’s military buildup on a number of artificial islands and a series of aggressive aircraft and ship battles.

The new agreement also calls for a series of military exercises involving the use of underwater and surface drones, improving the three countries’ ability to share information and data collected by their sonobuoys. The buoys are used to locate submarines and other objects in the water.

Plans are also called for to expand the use of artificial intelligence, including on P-8A surveillance aircraft, to process buoy data more quickly and thus improve anti-submarine warfare. And it says the three countries will build new radar sites to improve their ability to detect and track objects in space.

High-tech demonstrations were set up in a large DIU parking lot and headquarters, so Austin was able to take a few minutes before the meeting began to look at a number of projects being developed, including a virtual training device that which will help Ukrainian pilots learn to fly F-16 fighter jets and swarm drones being developed for fighter aircraft. The projects are not tied to the Australian agreement but reflect the three nations’ ongoing efforts to improve technology – an area where China often takes the lead.

As Austin walked through the exhibits, he watched as a swarm of five drones took off from the sidewalk and hovered above the spectators – all controlled by a single worker using a small handheld module. The short-range reconnaissance drones – Skydio

At the DIU offices, Air Force Maj. Alex Horn demonstrated a new portable pilot training module that allows instructors in the United States to remotely coach trainees abroad using a virtual reality headset. Four of the so-called “immersive training devices” will be delivered to Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona next month and will be used to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s.

Horn said the devices, which are cheaper than other systems, will help speed up the training of Ukrainian pilots who are used to flying Soviet planes and require training in F-16 basics before starting the cockpit Start training.

Source : apnews.com

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