U.S.-Australia submarine pact targets China's undersea weakness

The first of Australia’s new attack submarines, which are designed to destroy other submarines and surface vessels, won’t be ready for over a decade. But they threaten one of China’s relative military weaknesses: the ability to locate and defeat submarines, particularly nuclear-powered vessels.

The Pentagon said in its annual report on China’s military last year that while Beijing was advancing in its undersea warfare abilities, “it continues to lack a robust deep-water anti-submarine warfare capability.”

By agreeing to a deal with Australia on nuclear-powered submarines, the U.S. departed from decades of strict policies against sharing the technology. The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 precluded sharing U.S. nuclear technology with others, although the U.S. and U.K. later that decade signed a treaty calling for nuclear weapons cooperation.

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