AUKUS Pact Stresses Longterm Workforce Development

November 28, 2023 4:50 PM
Pre-commissioning unit (PCU) Hyman G. Rickover (SSN-795) seen prior to a christening ceremony at General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard facility in Groton, Conn., on July 31, 2021. US Navy Photo

The reason the leaders of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have placed heavy emphasis on workforce development is that when children in pre-kindergarten now are adults, they will be working on AUKUS in advanced technologies and shipbuilding, the State Department’s project lead said Monday.

Bonnie Jenkins, undersecretary for arms control and international security, called the agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States [AUKUS] “a generational opportunity to modernize existing partnerships” among the three allies.

Speaking to the Atlantic Council, Jenkins said “we’re going to need qualified people” to deliver and maintain the conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines to Australia and share advances in emerging technologies from artificial intelligence to quantum physics.

On a recent trip to the Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding, she added, “I was very impressed by the students there. They have a recognition of what AUKUS is.”

Canberra is expected to be able to build and maintain nuclear-power submarines by the early 2040s.

Jenkins said the instructors at the Huntington Ingalls Industries’ training facility “are reaching out to pre-K” teachers and schools in southeastern Virginia about career opportunities at the shipyard. She added that students enrolled in the Apprentice School “are ready to innovate” and the commitment of faculty and students “to excellence is palpable.”

In answer to an audience question, Jenkins acknowledged challenges meeting production schedules in Newport News and at General Dynamics Electric Boat delivering two nuclear-powered Virginia-class subs to the Navy and also one to the Australians as the agreement calls for.

Australia is poised to invest $3 billion in the two yards when legal and policy obstacles are removed, a number of news organizations have reported. In addition, congressional Republicans, led by ranking member of the Armed Services Committee Sen. Roger Wicker [R-Miss.], and have written to the White House expressing support for a supplemental shipyard appropriation fund to keep Pillar 1 of the agreement on track.

At the same time, the Navy’s top shipbuilding priority is the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine.

Newport News and Electric Boat are the only two shipyards in the United States capable of building nuclear-powered submarines. While Congress remains deadlocked over passing a federal budget for Fiscal Year 2024, which began Oct. 1, two continuing resolutions keeping the government open have contained a provision to allow spending $3.3 billion to continue work on the Columbia class.

Continuing resolutions usually do not allow higher spending than allowed in the previous year or new program starts.

On the personnel level, Jenkins mentioned Australian officers are already “integrated into our Nuclear Power School” in North Charleston, S.C. Two graduates are awaiting assignments to U.S. submarines.

“We are making an enduring commitment … a commitment to our future” with AUKUS. Several times during her presentation and question period, she said the agreement is not aimed at countering China or any other nation. Jenkins said the goal is to maintain “a free and open, prosperous” Indo-Pacific.

Under the advanced technologies of Pillar 2 in the agreement, Jenkins mentioned quantum physics, artificial intelligence, hypersonics, undersea warfare and cyber, all areas in which “we must have an inclusive approach,” one that “breaks down silos.”

The idea is “to share things very quickly.” Jenkins said that means administrations and legislatures in all three nations need to “look at their processes,” such as export control while keeping in mind necessary security and protection.

The same needs to be done in the industrial base on proprietary data, she added.

“There’s a lot of discussion on the Hill” on how to do both, Jenkins said.

When asked about Quad members Japan and India joining in on Pillar 2, Jenkins said, “we will decide later the criteria of who we work with” in the future.

The United States and a number of other nations “are making progress on [developing] international norms” for responsible use of artificial intelligence and autonomy. Jenkins said the discussion about norms goes beyond weapons and weapon systems.




John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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