AUKUS submarine project: What’s next?Written by Nick Blenkey
The AUKUS plan to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines took a significant step forward yesterday. The initiative, first publicly announced last September, will see the U.S. and U.K. share knowhow and technology with Australia with the aim of seeing that country producing nuclear submarines domestically. Delivery of the first Australian-built nuclear sub —SSN-AUKUS — is targeted for the early 2040’s.
Broad details of the pathway to achieving that were unveiled at a meeting of the leaders of the three countries —President Joe Biden, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese – held at the Point Lomar Naval Base in San Diego yesterday.
You can access the full transcript of their remarks HERE
“Working together these past 18 months, we’ve developed a phased approach that’s going to make sure Australian sailors are fully trained and prepared to safely operate this fleet so they can deliver this critical new capacity on the fastest — fastest possible timetable,” said President Biden.
“So we’re starting right away,” he continued. “Beginning this year, Australian personnel will embed with U.S. and UK crews on boats and at bases in our schools and our shipyards.
“We’ll also begin to increase our port visits to Australia. In fact, as we speak, the nuclear-powered sub the USS Asheville is making a port call in Perth as we speak.
“And later this decade, we will also be establishing a rotational presence of U.S. and U.K. nuclear-powered subs in Australia to help develop the work force Australia is going to need to build and maintain its fleet.”
“AUKUS has one overriding objective: to enhance stability in the Indo-Pacific amid rapidly shifting global dynamics,” said President Biden. “And this first project — this first project is only the beginning. More partnerships and more potential, more peace and security in the region lies ahead.”
AUSTRALIA TO ACQUIRE U.S. VIRGINIA CLASS SUBMARINES
In his remarks, Prime Minister Albanese revealed that from early in the next decade, Australia will take delivery of three U.S. Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines.
“This is the first time in 65 years and only the second time in history that the United States has shared its nuclear propulsion technology,” he said. “And we thank you for it.”
A backgrounder released by the Australian Department of Defense says:
“The U.S. intends to sell Australia three Virginia class submarines pending approval from the U.S. Congress, with the potential to sell up to two more if needed. The first Virginia class SSN is planned to be delivered to Australia in the early 2030s. Acquiring Virginia class SSNs will ensure there is no submarine capability gap during the retirement of Australia’s existing diesel-powered submarine fleet.”
Prime Minister Albanese also gave some details of the submarine that Australia, and before that the U.K., plans to build: the SNN-AUKUS.
“We are also proud to partner with the United Kingdom to construct the next generation submarine to be called SSN-AUKUS, a new conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarine, based on a British design and incorporating cutting-edge Australian, U.K., and U.S. technologies,” he said. “This will be an Australian sovereign capability, built by Australians, commanded by the Royal Australian Navy, and sustained by Australian workers in Australian shipyards with construction to begin this decade.”
According to the U.K. Ministry of Defence, “following an 18-month scoping period to establish the optimal pathway to Australia acquiring this capability, a model has been chosen based on the U.K.’s world-leading design and incorporating cutting-edge U.S. submarine technology.
“Australia and the U.K. will both build new submarines to this design, known as ‘SSN-AUKUS’, with construction of the U.K.’s submarines taking place principally in Barrow-in-Furness. Australia will work over the next decade to build up its submarine industrial base, and will build its submarines in South Australia with some components manufactured in the UK.
“The first U.K. submarines built to this design will be delivered in the late 2030s to replace the current Astute-Class vessels, and the first Australian submarines will follow in the early 2040s.
“The SSN-AUKUS submarines will be the largest, most advanced and most powerful attack submarines ever operated by the Royal Navy, combining world-leading sensors, design and weaponry in one vessel.”
GETTING FROM PLAN TO REALITY
Nuclear submarine programs are notorious for incurring delays and cost overruns. So whether SSN-AUKUS beats the odds remains to be seen. The U.K.’s current Astute class program was not without its teething problems — with GD Electric Boat being brought in to help sort them out. A Rand National Defense Research Institute publication “Learning from Experience: Lessons from the United Kingdom’s Astute Submarine Program” is likely required reading for all involved with SSN-AUKUS.