A new class of nuclear-powered submarines will be in Australia in the early 2040s, as Canberra plans to acquire eight vessels at a cost of up to $368 billion.
Australia will command a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines within the next three decades under a fast-track plan that will cost up to $368 billion.
In a bid to deter Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific, Canberra will procure three Virginia-class nuclear submarines from the US as a stopgap measure from about 2033 before a new hybrid SSN AUKUS-class vessel reaches the waters. Australians a decade later.
The cost to taxpayers of the trilateral agreement with the US and the UK will amount to between $268 and $368 billion over the next three decades.
The plan will take $9 billion of the budget bottom line over the next four years and $50-58 billion within a decade.
The annual cost will then be around 0.15 percent of GDP until the mid-2050s, but there are caveats about the accuracy of the forecasts due to the unpredictability of inflation three decades from now.
A US submarine for Australia will roll off the production line every three years before the new AUKUS class is built at a similar rate from 2042. The sale will need congressional approval.
Australia’s current Collins-class submarines are due to go out of service in the late 2030s.
The plan ensures that Australia will always have a core fleet of six submarines and will have the option to purchase two additional Virginia-class submarines in the event of delays.
The nuclear-powered submarines can stay at sea as long as the crew has food, extending Australia’s capacity for the weeks the Collins-class can stay underwater.
The UK will build and operate the first AUKUS submarine from the late 2030s and will procure between eight and 12 of the same type.
The British design found favor over the American, with the Virginia class set to stop production in the mid-2040s and Australia requiring a continued solution.
It is estimated that between 100 and 110 people will be needed to crew the new AUKUS class, significantly more than the 60 needed to command Australia’s Collins submarines.
Four US nuclear-powered submarines and one UK ship will begin rotating Western Australian naval bases from 2027 to boost Australia’s ability to operate its own vessels in the 2030s and 2040s.
An increase in visits by US and UK nuclear submarines will also begin next year.
Shipbuilders from Adelaide and Western Australia will join those from the United States and Britain to help build the new submarines, and improvements to the shipyards will begin this year.
The radioactive waste will be managed in Australia, prompting protests from environmental activists.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the partnership was aimed at strengthening national security and stability in the region when he announced the plan alongside US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in San Diego.
“For more than a century, brave citizens of our three countries have been part of a shared tradition of service to the cause of peace and sacrifice in the name of freedom,” he said.
“While we respect and honor the past, through AUKUS, we turn to the future.”
Biden said the agreement was a testament to the strong ties between the three nations.
“As we stand at the turning point of history… The United States could not ask for better partners in the Indo-Pacific, where much of our shared future will be written,” he said.