Australia, Britain sign defence cooperation agreement

By Kirsty Needham and Renju Jose

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia and Britain have signed a new defence and security agreement that makes it easier for their defence forces to operate together in each other's countries and Australia chose BAE Systems to help build new submarines.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and Defence Secretary Grant Shapps were in Australia for annual talks on Friday with their counterparts in Adelaide.

The treaty signed on Thursday requires the two nations to consult each other if they come under threat, Shapps told reporters in Canberra.

"The need to act together [has] never been more pressing than it is today," said Shapps.

Under the AUKUS agreement, a security pact between Australia, Britain and the United States launched in 2021, Australia also named BAE, Britain's biggest defence company, to build nuclear submarines in partnership with Australia-based naval firm ASC.

Shapps said the enhanced cooperation between the countries reflected a shift from a post-war world to a pre-war world.

"Not because we are about to go to war tomorrow, I hope, but because we need to be more prepared than ever before. Our stance needs to change," he said, pointing to the conflict in Ukraine as being relevant to the Indo-Pacific region.

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said the treaty added a strategic dimension to one of Australia's oldest partnerships, noting that Britain had a much bigger presence in the Indo-Pacific region than it has in a long time and would send a carrier strike group to the region next year.

Marles said Britain would contribute to a submarine rotational force in Australia, and that the treaty would strengthen the ability of the two militaries to work together.

Britain will also contribute to a Combined Intelligence Centre in Australia, within Australia's Defence Intelligence Organisation.

Under AUKUS, Australia will buy several U.S. Virginia-class submarines in the next decade, and build a new AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine at Adelaide shipyards by 2040.

Australia is boosting defence interoperability and military exercises with the United States and regional partners after a defence review last year said China was undertaking the largest military build-up of any country since the end of World War Two.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham and Renju Jose in Sydney; additional reporting by Sarah Young in London, Editing by Tom Hogue, Cynthia Osterman, Gerry Doyle and Alex Richardson)