The Royal Australian Navy will acquire its first nuclear-powered submarines by 2040, under a trilateral agreement with the US and the UK.
SSN-AUKUS is a fleet of conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines (SSN) to be built for the UK and Australian navies, as part of the Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) trilateral agreement signed in September 2021.
The three countries are collaborating through the AUKUS enhanced security partnership to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarine capability and to jointly create a new class of attack submarines that are aimed at strengthening undersea capabilities, enhancing deterrence and countering China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
The SSN-AUKUS submarines are intended to replace the Collins-class diesel-electric submarines that have been in service with the Royal Australian Navy.
SSN-AUKUS submarines development and delivery details
The SSN-AUKUS submarines for the UK Royal Navy will be constructed at the shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, UK. The first batch of the new submarines is expected to be delivered in the late 2030s, which will replace the existing Astute-class submarines in the navy.
The Royal Australian Navy is expected to acquire a total of eight SSN-AUKUS submarines, which will be built at the Osborne Naval shipyard in Adelaide, South Australia and will be delivered to the navy in the early 2040s.
The Australian Navy will additionally buy three Virginia-class submarines from the US in the early 2030s, subject to approval from the US Congress. Under the AUKUS partnership, Australia will also have the option to purchase two more Virginia-class submarines in the late 2030s, to maintain its underwater capabilities until the delivery of the SSN-AUKUS submarines.
SSN-AUKUS submarine design details
SSN-AUKUS will be a state-of-the-art advanced submarine based on the UK’s next-generation, interoperable SSN design, integrating cutting-edge technologies from all three nations.
The integration of propulsion, sensors and weapon systems as well as the common vertical launch system (VLS) in the SSN-AUKUS will be based on the Virginia-class technologies from the US. The submarine will be equipped for advanced intelligence, surveillance, underwater warfare and strike missions.
Australia is expected to invest up to A$368bn ($244.9bn) over the next 30 years in the SSN-AUKUS development programme, which will include investments of A$2bn ($1.3bn) and A$8bn ($5.3bn) to upgrade the Osborne Naval shipyard and the HMAS Stirling naval base in Western Australia, respectively.
Australia’s investment in the programme will also strengthen the industrial bases in the UK and the US to build and support the submarines.
The UK government will invest £5bn ($6bn) through 2025 to upgrade the country’s nuclear enterprise and fund the SSN-AUKUS submarine development. The investment is expected to be followed by continuous funding over the next ten years to support the submarine development programme.
The US is investing $2.4bn in its submarine industrial base from 2023 to 2027 to increase the production capacity of Virginia-class SSNs.
UK-based defence company BAE Systems received a contract worth £85m ($117.3m) from the UK’s Ministry of Defence to support early design and concept work on the SSN-AUKUS submarines in September 2021. The company will also play an important role in the delivery of AUKUS submarines to Australia.
Rolls-Royce Submarines, a Rolls-Royce subsidiary based in Derby, UK, will provide the nuclear reactors for Australia’s AUKUS submarines.
Babcock International, a UK-based nuclear engineering services company, will support the nuclear infrastructure development, workforce upskilling and regulatory and safety standards for the SSN-AUKUS programme.