In September 2021, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States announced a new security partnership – AUKUS – the first major initiative of which was a trilateral decision to support Australia acquiring conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs).
IMAGE: Artist rendering of SSN-AUKUS via BAE Systems. UK MoD, Crown copyright.
Today, in San Diago, USA, US President Joe Biden, UK PM Rishi Sunak and Australian PM Anthony Albanisi announced the pathway to achieve this critical capability.
Australia’s new SSNs will be a trilaterally-developed submarine based on the United Kingdom’s next-generation design that incorporates technology from all three nations, including cutting edge US submarine technologies.
Australia and the United Kingdom will operate SSN-AUKUS as their submarine of the future.
Both nations will begin work to build SSN-AUKUS in their own domestic shipyards within this decade.
Overall, the entire program will be phased…
- Australians are already training on nuclear technology and stewardship alongside their British and American counterparts.
- There are Australian submariners already undergoing nuclear power training in the United States (who, PM Albanese said, are all in the top 30 per cent of their class).
- More Australians will embed, this year, with the US Navy and the Royal Navy, and in US and UK submarine industrial bases to accelerate training of Australian personnel.
- The United States plans to increase US SSN port visits to Australia beginning this year, with Australian sailors joining US crews for training and development.
- The UK will increase visits to Australia beginning in 2026.
- As early as 2027, the United States and United Kingdom plan to begin forward rotations – that is, foreign nuclear SSNs based in Australia – to accelerate the development of Australian naval personnel, as well as the workforce, infrastructure and regulatory systems necessary to establish a sovereign SSN capability.
- Starting in the early 2030s, pending US Congressional approval, the United States intends to sell Australia three Virginia-class submarines, with the potential for two more if needed. This step will systematically grow Australia’s sovereign SSN capability and support capacity.
- In the late 2030s, the United Kingdom will deliver its first SSN-AUKUS to the Royal Navy.
- In the early 2040s, Australia will deliver the first SSN-AUKUS built in Australia to the Royal Australian Navy.
This plan is designed to support Australia’s development of the infrastructure, technical capabilities, industry and human capital necessary to produce, maintain, operate and steward a sovereign fleet of conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines.
Australia is only the second country with which the US has agreed to share its nuclear-propulsion technology, after the UK 65 years ago.
Prime Minister Albanese said Australia was fully committed to responsible stewardship of naval nuclear propulsion technology.
“When Australia announced the AUKUS partnership in September 2021 [under the Morrison Government], we committed to set the highest nuclear non-proliferation standard,” Mr Albanese said.
“The plan we announce today delivers on this commitment and reflects our longstanding leadership in, and respect for, the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.
“We continue to consult with the International Atomic Energy Agency to develop a non-proliferation approach that sets the strongest precedent for the acquisition of a nuclear-powered submarine capability.”
Mr Albanese said the AKUS plan would elevate all three nations’ industrial capacity to produce and sustain interoperable nuclear-powered submarines for decades to come, expand their individual and collective undersea presence in the Indo-Pacific, and contribute to global security and stability.
“In these outcomes, AUKUS reflects the principle that shared action, taken in partnership, can benefit all.
“Implementing AUKUS will also require robust, novel information sharing and technology cooperation.
“Our nations are committed to further trilateral collaboration that will strengthen our joint capabilities, enhance our information and technology sharing, and integrate our industrial bases and supply chains while strengthening the security regimes of each nation.
“For more than a century, our three nations have stood shoulder to shoulder, along with other allies and partners, to help sustain peace, stability and prosperity around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific.
“We believe in a world that protects freedom and respects human rights, the rule of law, the independence of sovereign states, and the rules-based international order.
“The steps we are announcing today will help us to advance these mutually beneficial objectives in the decades to come.”
The full cost of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine project was not disclosed by the Prime Minister’s office today, but other media are reporting it at $360billion over the 40 years.
Prime Minister Albanese did say that the phased approach to the programme would result in $6 billion being invested in Australia’s industrial capability and workforce over the next four years – with $2billion in expected investment into South Australia, and a further $1billion in Western Australia.
“The scale, complexity and economic significance of this investment is akin to the creation of the Australian automotive industry in the post-World War Two period,” Mr Albanese said.
“And, just as the vision of my predecessors, Curtin and Chifley, in creating our automotive industry lifted up our entire manufacturing sector, this investment will be a catalyst for innovation and research breakthroughs that will reverberate right throughout the Australian economy and across every state and territory.
“Not just in one design element, not just in one field, but right across our advanced manufacturing and technology sectors, creating jobs and growing businesses, right around Australia, inspiring and rewarding innovation, and educating young Australians today for the opportunities of tomorrow.”