The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced that it has begun the next phase of development for the future nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) AUKUS.

Under a string of contracts signed with three British defence primes Babcock, BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, the MoD aims to deliver the first British AUKUS SSNs into service in the late 2030s; they will replace the current Astute class vessels, while the first Australian submarines will follow in the early 2040s.

AUKUS vessels will be the largest, most advanced and most powerful SSNs ever operated by the UK Royal Navy, combining world-leading sensors, design and weaponry in one vessel.

Totalling £4bn ($4.87bn), the Detailed Design and Long leads (D2L2) phase will see the three British primes offer designs, begin prototyping and purchase long lead components for the first UK submarines.

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The MoD expects construction to commence in the coming years and ensure the stability and resilience of Britain’s domestic supply chain.

The new UK Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps stated: “This multi-billion-pound investment in the AUKUS submarine programme will help deliver the long term hunter-killer submarine capabilities the UK needs to maintain our strategic advantage and secure our leading place in a contested global order.”

The deal covers joint work in electronic warfare, artificial intelligence, hypersonic weapons and quantum technologies while its centrepiece is Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered attack submarines.

AUKUS’s nature as a transcontinental military alliance could come to define Britain’s military posture and the future of Indo-Pacific security as tensions with China continue to rise.

Compared to diesel-electric boats, SSNs more suitably operate in large, deep, and wide oceans – ideal for the Indo-Pacific region, and a large deterrent for any hostile naval force.

British industry roles in delivering AUKUS

Turning to industry, Babcock’s five-year contract with the MoD will see the company design AUKUS so that it maximises the platform’s availability throughout its service life.

The naval manufacturer already has an established authority within the AUKUS programme as the company owns and operates the UK’s only nuclear licensed facility for refitting, refuelling and defuelling nuclear submarines.

While Babcock and Rolls Royce have not disclosed their funding, BAE Systems have announced that the MoD “has awarded £3.95bn of funding” to the company.

Having started early design work in 2021, the latest funding will cover development work until 2028, enabling the contractor to move into the more detailed design phase of the programme and begin to procure long lead items.

BAE Systems has already delivered five of seven Astute class submarines to the Royal Navy with the remaining two boats at advanced stages of construction. As well as this, the company is also designing and building the UK’s Dreadnought nuclear deterrent submarines, with work underway on three of four units.

In addition to these contracts, the UK Government intends to prepare its infrastructure at the submarine shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness and the nuclear reactor manufacturing site in Raynesway, Derby for the AUKUS programme.

The MoD will “develop and expand” these facilities “where needed to meet the requirement for the future submarine build programme,” according to an MoD press release.

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