Under the ‘AUKUS’ partnership unveiled in September 2021, the Royal Australian Navy is to build a new class of nuclear-powered attack submarines, but questions abound about their design, how and where they will be built and how they will be maintained and manned.
The newly announced landmark defence and security partnership agreed by the leaders of the UK, US and Australia – the ‘AUKUS’ alliance – came out of the blue, but even more unexpected was the planned collaboration on nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy.
The AUKUS partners argue that if the Royal Australian Navy has nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) it will “promote stability in the Indo-Pacific.” The submarines would be deployed in support of “shared values and interests.”
In a joint statement, the three governments said: “As the first initiative under AUKUS, recognising our common tradition as maritime democracies, we commit to a shared ambition to support Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy.
“We have embarked on a trilateral effort of 18 months to seek an optimal pathway to deliver this capability. We will leverage expertise from the US and the UK, building on the two countries’ submarine programmes to bring an Australian capability into service at the earliest achievable date. The development of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines would be a joint endeavour between the three nations, with a focus on interoperability, commonality, and mutual benefit.
“Australia is committed to adhering to the highest standards for safeguards, transparency, verification, and accountancy measures to ensure the non-proliferation, safety, and security of nuclear material and technology. Australia remains committed to fulfilling all of its obligations as a non-nuclear weapons state, including with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Our three nations are deeply committed to upholding our leadership on global non-proliferation.”
For the time being, details remain sketchy – especially on timelines and budgets – and ensuring delivery by 2035 – when the first of the now-cancelled Attack-class SSKs was meant to be launched, but some of the issues arising from the plan are discussed in more detail in the October 2021 issue of Warship Technology.