British design chosen for new AUKUS submarines, dubbed "SSN-AUKUS"

AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines will be based on UK design and built in the UK and Australia.

Anita Hawser
13 March 2023
SSN-AUKUS (Photo: Business Wire)


The first generation of AUKUS nuclear submarines will be built in the UK and Australia, based on a modified version of a design the UK is already working on to replace its Astute-class submarines.

The UK government made the announcement after a meeting between UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Australian PM Anthony Albanese, and US President Joe Biden in San Diego.

Australia and the UK will both build new submarines to this design, known as ‘SSN-AUKUS’, with the construction of the UK’s submarines taking place principally in Barrow-in-Furness. Australia will work over the next decade to build up its submarine industrial base and will build its submarines in South Australia with some components manufactured in the UK. The submarines will be nuclear-powered, not nuclear-armed, US President Joe Biden stressed. “Australia is a proud non-nuclear state and intends to stay that way,” he stated.

The first UK submarines built to this design will be delivered in the late 2030s to replace the current Astute-Class vessels, and the first Australian submarines will follow in the early 2040s.

The UK government says the massive, trilateral building project, will create thousands of jobs in the UK. As the home of British submarine building, most of these jobs will be concentrated at BAE System’s site at Barrow-in-Furness with further roles created elsewhere along the supply chain, including in Derby.

In September 2021, the UK, US, and Australia announced a historic, trilateral endeavour to support Australia to acquire a conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarine or ‘SSN’ – in a partnership known as AUKUS. The partnership saw Australia ditch plans for a class of French-designed non-nuclear submarines for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), to be manufactured by France’s Naval Group in a contract estimated to be worth more than $AUD90bn, making it one of Australia’s most expensive defence acquisitions ever.

However, a looming China threat in the Indo-Pacific saw former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison end the relationship with Naval Group and forge an alliance with the UK and the US to build a nuclear submarine capability, which will provide longer endurance.

The UK government says 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.

Choosing an interoperable submarine design will allow the Royal Navy, with its Australian and US counterparts to work together to meet shared threats and deter aggression. This includes in the Indo-Pacific where the refresh of the UK’s Integrated Review, published today, has confirmed the importance of increased engagement.

The strategy confirms the Indo-Pacific ‘tilt’ as a permanent pillar of the UK’s international policy. The government said the UK’s SSN-AUKUS submarines will also help the UK maintain its commitment to defending the Euro-Atlantic region, adding to the work it does through NATO.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that an additional £5 billion will be provided to the UK MoD over the next two years, which will be spent in several areas including modernising the UK’s nuclear enterprise and funding the next phase of the AUKUS submarine programme. This will be followed by sustained funding over the next decade to support the SSN-AUKUS programme and will build on the £2bn invested last year in the Dreadnought-class submarine programme. 

“To deliver the new submarines by the earliest possible date, Royal Australian Navy personnel will be embedded in the Royal Navy and US Navy, and – subject to necessary arrangements – at British and American submarine industrial bases, by the end of this year,” UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace stated. “This process will accelerate the training of Australian personnel required for them to operate a submarine fleet.”

US submarines will also increase port visits to Australia from this year with the UK increasing visits from 2026. British and American SSNs will make longer-term deployments to Australia from as early as 2027 to accelerate the development of Australia’s workforce, infrastructure and regulatory system.

As part of the agreement, to fulfil Australia’s need for a nuclear-powered submarine until the SSN-AUKUS is operational, the US intends to sell Australia several Virginia-Class submarines in the 2030s.