SSN-AUKUS: London invests £4 billion in the design of its future nuclear attack submarine

The British Ministry of Defense announced, as part of the SSN-AUKUS program, the signing of £4 billion in contracts with several major manufacturers, for the design of the future replacement for the Astute-class nuclear attack submarines, as well as the adaptation of industrial infrastructure to produce future submarines.

Announced in 2021, the SSN-AUKUS program represents the founding pillar of the AUKUS alliance which brings together the United States, Australia and Great Britain. Its broad outlines were revealed on the occasion ofa ceremony bringing together the heads of state of the 3 countries on the US Navy naval base in San Diego March 2023.

Ambitions and concerns around the SSN-AUKUS program

This is built on the design of a new nuclear attack submarine intended to replace the Astute class SSN of the Royal Navy from 2040 for 7 examples, as well as the extension of the SSN fleet of the Australian Navy on the same date, for 3 to 5 examples.

Previously, the Royal Australian Navy will have acquired 3 to 5 American nuclear attack submarines of the Virginia Block IV and/or V class, with the objective of reaching a fleet of eight Australian ships by to 2050.

Beyond the pitiful way in which the former Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, had negotiated the subject while keeping it secret, including from France with whom Canberra had signed a contract for the construction in 2015 local of 12 conventionally powered submarines, this program raises many concerns, in Australia as in the United States.

Virginia Class
The Royal Australian Navy will acquire 3 to 5 Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines from the United States.

For several senior officials in the American Congress, the sale of 3 to 5 Virginia-class SSNs to Australia can only be done, given the state of planning projections, to the detriment of the rise in power of the US Navy in this area, while the hypothesis of growing tensions with Beijing now seems to be evident.

In fact, some American senators and representatives fear that this program, if it effectively strengthens the operational capabilities of Australia, a leading ally in the Pacific, will jointly handicap American response capabilities in the face of Beijing, and therefore the effectiveness of their dissuasive nature.

In Australia, these are mainly the questions of costs and industrial returns of the program which are the subject of debate, knowing that this will cost between 2,5 and 3 times more expensive than the highly contested program which aimed to locally build 12 Attack class submarines derived from the French Barracuda.

As such, the consequences on budgetary availability for other equipment programs for the Australian armies are already being felt, with certain reductions in volume and sometimes spectacular postponements.

£4 billion for BAE system, Rolls-Royce and Babcock for the successor to the Astute class

Until now, Great Britain seemed less exposed to the deleterious effects of this ambitious program. Indeed, the Royal Navy was, in any case, soon to begin the design of future replacements for the Astute-class SSN, whose lead unit, the HMS Astute, entered service in 2014, 14 years ago. after the keel had been laid.

Astute class SSN-AUKUS
The ships of the SSN-AUKUS program will replace the Royal Navy's Astute-class SSNs.

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