Japan may join UK/US/Australia defense-oriented AI and quantum alliance

But not the nuclear subs bit

The AUKUS Alliance – a team-up between Australia, the US and the UK – has revealed it may invite Japan to join its efforts to develop artificial intelligence and quantum computing tech to be used for mutual defense.

AUKUS was formed in 2021 with a centerpiece of collaboration between members to equip Australia with its first nuclear-powered submarines.

Demonstrating alliance members' resolve to build strength in the Asia-Pacific – and therefore show China it can't expect to have things its own way in the region's waters – was the pact's first "pillar." At the time of writing, it appears that the boats will be made using a UK design, in a yet-to-be-expanded shipyard in Australia. Reactors are likely to be made in the UK too, but the USA will help with plenty of expertise and kit. In theory this is a win/win/win for the three nations' economies.

The second pillar of AUKUS is described as "advanced capability development" and sees alliance members work on matters including:

  • Cyber capabilities, including protecting critical communications and operations systems;
  • AI and autonomy, especially in "contested environments";
  • Quantum technologies for positioning, navigation, and timing;
  • Autonomous underwater vehicles;
  • Electronic warfare capabilities, especially to ensure comms can survive "an increasingly contested electromagnetic spectrum";
  • Advanced deep space tech to "provide 24-hour continuous, all weather global coverage to detect, track and identify objects in deep space and increase space domain awareness";
  • Sharing sensitive defense tech info.

AUKUS members meet regularly to discuss these matters and share their developments.

And now Japan may be invited to join.

A joint statement issued on Monday by the US, UK, and Australia revealed that the AUKUS partners' defense minsters "are confident that engaging like-minded partners in the work of Pillar II will only strengthen this pursuit."

The statement is the first time AUKUS has formally floated the prospect of expansion, and mentions just one potential like-minded partner: Japan.

"Recognizing Japan's strengths and its close bilateral defense partnerships with all three countries, we are considering cooperation with Japan on AUKUS Pillar II advanced capability projects."

The criteria Japan would need to satisfy to be admitted to AUKUS – and when an assessment against them might happen – have not been revealed.

Nor have the fruits of Pillar II to date – as you would expect from a defense tech collaboration.

But activity around Pillar II is already happening. Multilateral meetings and academic collaborations are under way.

And soon Japan – which boasts some of the world's cleverest tech companies and a top tier space program – could join efforts to apply information technology to create advanced weapons and defenses in the cause of curbing China. ®

Updated at 2355 UTC, April 9

We corrected this story to report that the AUKUS subs will use a UK design and will be built in Australia. Since we published this piece, Canada has also expressed an interest in joining AUKUS.

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