Australian Government announces AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine pathway

Line of Defence Magazine - Update

Virginia Class
Virginia-class attack submarine Minnesota (SSN-783) under construction in 2012. Image: US Navy.

Today’s AUKUS announcement of Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines is, according to the Australian Government, the single biggest investment in defence capability in the country’s history, representing a ‘transformational moment’.

AUKUS members Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have agreed to a phased approach to the submarine agreement that aims to provide significant, long-term strategic benefits for all three countries.

According to a media release by the Australian Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, for Australia the three key elements are:

  • Increased visits of US submarines commencing in 2023 and UK submarines from 2026, and, beginning in 2027, rotations of UK and US submarines to Australia, which will deliver jobs, infrastructure, technology and preparations to be “sovereign ready”.
  • From the 2030s, delivery of three US Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.
  • Australia and the UK will deliver SSN-AUKUS, a new conventionally-armed nuclear-powered submarine, based on a UK design, incorporating cutting edge Australian, UK and US technologies. The UK will deliver its own first SSN-AUKUS in the late 2030s, with the first SSN-AUKUS built in Australia delivered in the early 2040s.

According to the statement, it is expected that the phased approach “will result in $6 billion invested in Australia’s industrial capability and workforce over the next four years, creating around 20,000 direct jobs over the next 30 years.”

“This whole of nation effort also presents a whole of nation opportunity; for new jobs, new industries, and new expertise in science, technology, and cyber,” it continued. “Businesses right across the country in every state and territory will have the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from these opportunities over decades.”

The government predicts that over the next four years, this will result in $2 billion in expected investment into South Australia, and a further $1 billion in Western Australia.

The Australian Government will need to fund the phased approach to amount to around 0.15 per cent of GDP per year, averaged over the life of the program.

According to the government, the plan “elevates Australia’s industrial capacity to produce and sustain advanced SSNs, alongside our AUKUS partners. Importantly, the SSNs will be an Australian sovereign capability, commanded by the Royal Australian Navy and sustained by Australians in Australian shipyards.”

“Australia and our AUKUS partners are committed to setting the highest nuclear non-proliferation standard for Australia’s acquisition of SSNs, in continued close cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“These enhanced defence capabilities will make Australia and our partners better able to deter conflict, and help ensure stability and strategic balance are maintained in the Indo-Pacific.”


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