• World
  • Mar 14

Explainer - AUKUS submarine project

• US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attended a summit meeting in San Diego on March 13 and announced an arrangement for Australia to acquire conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) through the AUKUS enhanced security partnership. 

• In September 2021, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States announced AUKUS – a new security partnership that will promote a free and open Indo-Pacific that is secure and stable.

• The first major initiative of AUKUS was the trilateral decision to support Australia acquiring conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs).

• This plan will lift all three nations’ submarine industrial bases and undersea capabilities, enhancing deterrence and promoting stability in the Indo-Pacific.

Roadmap for SSN-AUKUS

• Australia’s future SSN, called SSN-AUKUS, will be a state-of-the-art platform designed to leverage the best of submarine technology from all three nations. 

• SSN-AUKUS will be based upon the UK’s next-generation SSN design while incorporating cutting edge US submarine technologies, and will be built and deployed by both Australia and the UK.

• The UK’s SSN-AUKUS submarines will be built by BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce. 

• SSN-AUKUS will be the future attack submarine for both Australia and the UK.

• Australia and the UK intend to start building SSN-AUKUS in their domestic shipyards before the end of this decade. 

• The first UK submarines built to this design will be delivered in the late 2030s to replace the current Astute-Class vessels. 

• Australia plans to deliver the first Australian-built SSN-AUKUS to the Royal Australian Navy in the early 2040s.

• The SSN-AUKUS submarines will be the largest, most advanced and most powerful attack submarines ever operated by the Royal Navy, combining world-leading sensors, design and weaponry in one vessel.

• This massive multilateral undertaking will create thousands of jobs in the decades ahead.

• AUKUS partners operating highly capable SSNs will provide an assured undersea capability that contributes to stability, peace, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and around the world.

Responsible stewardship of naval nuclear propulsion technology

• For over 60 years, the UK and US have operated more than 500 naval nuclear reactors that have collectively travelled more than 150 million miles – the equivalent of over 300 trips to the Moon and back. Australia is committed to upholding these same standards to safely steward naval nuclear propulsion technology.

• Australia has committed to managing all radioactive waste generated through its nuclear-powered submarine programme, including spent nuclear fuel, in Australia. 

• The UK and the US will assist Australia in developing this capability, leveraging Australia’s decades of safely and securely managing radioactive waste domestically. 

• Australia will manage these materials in accordance with its nuclear non-proliferation and other international obligations and commitments.

Strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime

When the AUKUS leaders announced the initiative in September 2021, they committed to meeting countries’ respective nuclear non-proliferation obligations, setting the highest non-proliferation standard, and strengthening the non-proliferation regime while protecting classified and controlled information.

They have made clear commitments to meet these objectives, including that:

• As a non-nuclear-weapon state, Australia does not, and will not, seek to acquire nuclear weapons.

• Australia will not enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel as part of this programme.

• Australia will not produce its own nuclear fuel for its SSNs.

• The UK and US intend to provide Australia with nuclear material in complete, welded power units that will not require refueling during their lifetime.

• The nuclear fuel that Australia receives cannot be used in nuclear weapons without further chemical processing, which would require facilities that Australia does not have and will not seek.

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