In September, President Joe Biden and the prime ministers of Australia and the U.K. announced a new defense partnership, surprising allies and competitors alike.

The initiative, known as AUKUS, infuriated France, which lost out on the sale of submarines worth close to $60 billion, and alarmed China, which sees the pact as a direct threat.

Although AUKUS leaders say their initiative isn’t aimed at any country, in particular, it is clear that the deal was designed to counter Chinese influence and ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region.

The pact centers on an agreement for the U.S. and U.K. to provide nuclear-propulsion technology to Australia, but that is only the tip of a collaboration iceberg between the three countries. Their cooperation goes back decades, and special operations forces have been a key component.


Cut From the Same Cloth

UK Britain Special Air Service North Africa World War II WWII
SAS members after a three-month patrol in North Africa during World War II. (British army/Imperial War Museum)

Most modern Western special-operations units can trace their lineage to the British Special Air Service in World War II. The commonalities that were created became clear during the past two decades of war in the Middle East and Africa.

Allied countries often train together to ensure interoperability, to learn from one another, and to hone their war-fighting skills in a more realistic environment. The U.S. Army’s Delta Force has a deep relationship with the Australian SAS, and the two units often train in Australia and the United States.

In addition to regular training, the special operations communities of the three countries share a close relationship through exchange programs in which individuals or groups from one unit spend time serving with one of their direct counterparts. These exchange programs have existed for decades.