A nuclear-powered U.S. Navy submarine cruises into the Navy Port at Port Canaveral, Florida, in March 2023.

A nuclear-powered U.S. Navy submarine cruises into the Navy Port at Port Canaveral, Florida, in March 2023. Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Congress OKs selling subs to Australia, bars some warship retirements

2024 NDAA will buy one new amphibious warship for the U.S. Navy.

Congress will greenlight the transfer of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, advancing key legislation for the AUKUS defense-technology pact. 

In its compromise defense policy bill released Wednesday night, House and Senate lawmakers have given the U.S. Navy approval to sell three Virginia-class submarines to Australia. 

The bill also approves the transfer of $3 billion from Australia to help revamp the U.S. submarine industrial base, allows Australian contractors to work on the submarines, and gives the U.S. and Australia an exemption to the U.S. export control regime if the countries prove that they have “comparable” regulatory systems to the U.S. system. 

Additionally, the bill “streamlines technology sharing among the three AUKUS allies under the umbrella of the Defense Production Act to strengthen deterrence in the Indo-Pacific,” Rep. Joe Courtney, D.-Conn, said in a statement.  

There was some uncertainty about the state of AUKUS legislation in the bill; Sen. Roger Wicker, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was holding up two provisions over demands for the submarine industrial base to get more money from the broader defense supplemental package.

Wicker approved the transfer of submarines under the condition that the legislation not take effect until one year after the defense policy bill has passed, aiming to give the supplemental funding more time to pass.

In other Navy news, lawmakers also moved to:

  • Buy another amphibious ship.
  • Save four of the eight warships, three LSDs and one cruiser, the Navy hoped to retire before the end of their intended service life.
  • Establish the nuclear Sea-Launched Cruise Missile as an official program of record, despite multiple attempts from the Biden administration to kill the program.
  • Allow the Navy to cut its carrier air wings down to nine.
  • Give the Navy the authority to purchase up to 13 Virginia-class submarines in the next block contract.
  • Ask the Navy to conclude contract negotiations on 20 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets “as soon as possible.”