According to the plan, developed in the eighteen months since the shock AUKUS announcement, Australia will initially acquire up to three (with options for two more) Virginia class SSNs from the US in the early 2030s. These will then be replaced by as many as eight SSN-AUKUS, an evolution of the UK’s SSN(R) program, starting in the early 2040s. The US SSN(X) program will remain separate.
SSN-AUKUS will use a British design embedded with an American combat system. It will be powered by a Rolls Royce reactor and include a Vertical Launch System (VLS), as previously reported by Naval News. The first examples for the Royal Navy (RN) will commence construction in the United Kingdom later this decade. Australia’s first boats will be built by ASC in Adelaide starting in the early 2030s.
Before Australia takes ownership of any SSNs the United States Navy (USN) and RN will establish a rotational presence at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia from 2027. This presence, to be known as Submarine Rotational Force West (SRF-West), will include as many as five SSNs made up of both British and American SSNs.
A Massive Enterprise
In the lead-up to SRF-West standing up the, U.S. will ramp up port visits to HMAS Stirling starting this year, with the UK following suit from 2026. These deployments will serve as important training opportunities for both Australian submariners and industry. Training will commence this year with Australian personnel embedding aboard US and UK submarines and in their respective submarine enterprises.
In order to supply Australia with Virginia class SSNs Australia will fork up more than $3 billion Australian dollars over the next four years to pay for upgrades to the US Defence industrial base. In return, as well as the submarines themselves, ASC in Adelaide will be incorporated into a now-global Virginia class supply chain ahead of an eventual domestic SSN-AUKUS build starting in the 2030s.
While the exact cost of the AUKUS program hasn’t been publicly disclosed, it’s reportedly somewhere between $286-386 billion Australian dollars (roughly ~$190-257 billion USD) through 2055. The canned Attack class submarine was slated to cost $80 billion for acquisition alone. The AUKUS program is so large that it will be managed externally to the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG) which is Australia’s lead Defence procurement agency.
Fate of Collins class LOTE unclear
The fate of the Collins class Life of Type Extension (LOTE) program in light of the AUKUS announcement is also unclear with speculation that it may be cancelled or rolled back. As it currently stands, LOTE is set to commence in 2026 with HMAS Farncomb, which will have its engines, optronics and propulsion systems overhauled. While work on any submarine is yet to commence, Naval News understands that Safran is under contract to deliver its non-penetrating optronics mask as part of the program.