Canberra to announce SSN-AUKUS 'shipbuilding partner' within the next year

By Nick Wilson / November 8, 2023

Within the next year, the Australian government will announce the "shipbuilding partner" that will build the future SSN-AUKUS submarine and help to develop the vessel's requirements, an Australian Navy official said today at the Naval Submarine League Symposium.

“Inside the next 12 months, we expect the Australian government to make an announcement on the SSN-AUKUS build partner. That entity will have a huge role to play in determining some of these requirements,” Commodore Bradley Francis told reporters.

The design, construction and eventual delivery of SSN-AUKUS vessels is the third and final phase of the trilateral security partnership. The U.S., U.K. and Australia aim to begin delivering the new submarines in the late 2030s, following the transfer of at least three Virginia-class submarines to Australia.

Under the agreement, SSN-AUKUS will be collaboratively developed by the three nations, with some vessels constructed in the United Kingdom and some in Australia.

Canberra’s ‘build partner' will act as the prime contractor for SSN-AUKUS construction within Australia, Francis said, adding that the government has already “nominated the partner” that will begin building the shipyard later this year.

In the U.S., the Navy is working to integrate more Australian servicemembers and shipbuilders into shipyards and naval facilities to study submarine operation, construction and maintenance practices, according to Capt. Lincoln Reifsteck, U.S. program manager for AUKUS integration and acquisition.

“You’ll see Australians at the end of this month at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard embedding and looking at work planning, looking at how Australians will participate in the first maintenance availabilities we do in Australia and learning how to plan the jobs that will be done in those availabilities,” Reifsteck said when asked what AUKUS implementation actions the U.S. will take over the coming year.

In August, the Navy announced the first contingent of AUKUS personnel had arrived at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard to learn the maintenance and industrial skills needed to establish Submarine Rotational Force-West in Australia as soon as 2027.

“I think you'll see Australians -- pending the legislative changes that we've asked for -- actually starting to do work with their U.S. counterparts on U.S. submarines in Australia or in the United States,” Reifsteck said, referring to yet-to-be approved AUKUS-implementation legislation that would enable greater collaboration and data sharing between the nations.

The three AUKUS nations also plan to conduct additional port visits in the coming year, Reifsteck added, and the U.K. will increase investment in its domestic nuclear shipyards and submarine industrial base.

“You’ll see additional Australians being trained both in the U.K. and the U.S. on the uniformed side,” he continued. “Finishing the nuclear power pipeline and going on to the tactical submarine training and actually being permanent crew members on U.S. submarines.”