Nine senior House lawmakers back AUKUS amid Reed's industrial base concerns

By Audrey Decker / January 11, 2023 at 1:14 PM

Lawmakers from the House Armed Services Committee have sent a letter to President Biden backing the tripartite AUKUS agreement after two senators voiced bipartisan concern that the security pact could harm the U.S. submarine industrial base.

A key feature of the AUKUS agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States is that Australia would be provided access to sensitive U.S. nuclear submarine propulsion technology. AUKUS members are expected to unveil the path for Australia to purchase a nuclear-powered submarine in March. The plan forward is much anticipated as Australia has no nuclear sector -- and the U.S. continues to face its own submarine industrial base challenges.

In December, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) sent a letter with now-retired Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) cautioning Biden that the AUKUS agreement is a “zero-sum game” that could stress the U.S. submarine industrial base to its “breaking point.” Reed and Inhofe’s letter was first reported by Breaking Defense.

In response to those concerns, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) released a letter yesterday in support of the pact, noting AUKUS is crucial for the security of the nation and its allies in the Indo-Pacific region.

In addition to Courtney, the letter was signed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers: Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Adam Smith (D-WA), Mike Rogers (R-AL), Trent Kelly (R-MS), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Rob Wittman (R-VA), Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Blake Moore (R-UT). Rogers has been named chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and Gallagher chairman of the Select Committee on China.

“Far from a zero-sum game, the potential for the United States to provide or build new submarines under AUKUS, should that be the recommendation of the trilateral consultation, could very well be a ‘rising tide that lifts all boats,’” House lawmakers state.

While the COVID-19 pandemic strained the submarine industrial base, those challenges will not remain “static” in the coming decades for AUKUS, according to the letter.

The three AUKUS countries are nearing the end of an 18-month consultation period which began in the fall of 2021 with the announcement of the security pact.

“Any proposals that come from the completion of the consultation process will require and receive close congressional scrutiny, balancing out our undersea needs here at home, the strategic security goals of AUKUS and the health and future of our industrial base. We do not, however, see these as mutually exclusive aims,” the House lawmakers said in their letter.

After blowback from Reed and Inhofe’s letter, Reed took to Twitter on Jan. 9, writing that he supports AUKUS. Successful implementation of the pact will require “responsible oversight and a stable industrial base,” he said.