US, UK and Australia reveal next steps for ‘SSN-AUKUS’ development

The US, the UK and Australia have revealed the next steps for the acquisition of Australia’s ‘conventionally armed’ nuclear-powered submarine under the Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) security pact.

The declaration was made during a trilateral meeting held in San Diego on 13 March. It was presided by US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and British counterpart Rishi Sunak.

According to the joint statement, both the UK and Australia will have a next-generation nuclear-powered submarine (SSN).

Currently being referred to as ‘SSN-AUKUS’, the construction of the submarine will take place in the UK and Australia’s domestic shipyards.

The SSN-AUKUS will be based on a UK design and incorporate technologies from Australia, the UK and the US.

BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce will construct the UK’s SSN-AUKUS submarines.

Construction will begin towards the end of the decade with delivery of the first UK submarine expected by the late 2030s. The new vessels will replace UK’s current Astute-class submarines.

On 13 March, the UK Government stated that it would provide the Ministry of Defence with £5bn in additional funding over the next two years. Approximately £3bn will be invested across the defence nuclear enterprise.

Australia’s first nuclear-powered submarine will be delivered in the early 2040s.

The three nations have collaboratively proposed a phased approach for the construction of SSN-AUKUS for Australia. The newly announced arrangement builds on the 18-month-long consultation period, under the AUKUS pact.

According to the Australian Government, the entire approach is expected to require $3.995bn (A$6bn) investment in the country’s industrial capability and workforce in the next four years, of which $1.3bn (A$2bn) will be spared for South Australia and $666m (A$1bn) for Western Australia.

In the initial stage slated to start later this year, the Australian military/civilian personnel will collaborate with the US Navy and the UK Royal Navy to receive training in the US-UK-based submarine industrial bases.

During this period, the US will also bolster SSN port visits to Australia alongside Australian sailors to train with the US crews. Similarly, the UK will increase port visits to Australia from 2026.

This will be followed by the US-UK forward rotations of SSNs to Australia, starting in 2027, to expedite the development of the required workforce, personnel and infrastructure for Australia.

In the early 2030s, the US is expected to sell three Virginia-class submarines to Australia. The plan also includes the sale of two additional vessels, if required.

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