The Virginia-class attack submarine Minnesota (SSN 783) is under construction at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding.

The Virginia-class attack submarine Minnesota (SSN 783) is under construction at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding. U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Newport News Shipbuilding/Released)

Pentagon: US must fix two things if AUKUS is to transform partner militaries

Top policy official says shoring up industrial base, reforming export-control law are key.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this report incorrectly described a projected effect of U.S. industrial-base problems.

The AUKUS agreement could fundamentally change how the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom pursue new military technology—but first, the U.S. needs to shore up its own industrial base, a top Pentagon policy official said.

“It is very clear that that industrial base has not has not been able to perform at exactly the level that we all want it to,” Mara E. Karlin, assistant defense secretary for strategies, plans, and capabilities told reporters on Tuesday. “And that is why the administration–with a very robust support of the Congress–has put funding into it. As you know, though, that funding has taken a while to be realized. And so we need to look hard, I think, particularly over this coming year, to see what pops out from the funding of that industrial base and the impact it has.”

She said that overcoming these challenges could enable the agreement to transform all three militaries in the years ahead, setting up a much more powerful alliance to deter China from aggressive action. 

“There are these two pillars to AUKUS, right, and the first is really focused on undersea capabilities. The second is focused on advanced capabilities. And it's effectively premised on this idea that you have three incredibly capable and sophisticated allies who see the threat picture pretty similarly and have robust defense industrial bases, and [who] want to be able to exercise and operate effectively.”

Pillar Two includes artificial intelligence, hypersonics, and other areas. And if that pillar is “done right,” Karlin said, “I won't be able to tell you how, what it will look like 10 years from now.”

But realizing that vision will require Congress to move more quickly to reform export control laws, she said, because this is “crucial” to AUKUS living up to its potential. 

These changes—improving the industrial base and reforming export-control law—should bolster the trend of Indo-Pacific region countries increasing defense spending and expanding military exercises with the United States and other regional militaries, Karlin said.

“The investments in regional militaries look a whole lot different than [they] did five years ago, and definitely 10 years ago. And so you see this just looking at two examples, Australia and Japan, as really notable cases where they're investing meaningfully in their, in their military. And what's striking, and surprising to say, this is like, you know, a national defense strategy nerd, you will also see them kind of putting out strategies that are very much in line with what the national defense strategy is saying in terms of how they are understanding regional security, and how their understanding their shifting role in upholding it,” she said. 

The first commitment under the AUKUS agreement will send five nuclear-powered submarines to Australia. The current U.S. program for attack subs, the Virginia class, has seen recent production delays.