UK signs off on $4.9B AUKUS submarine design phase contracts with industry trio


UK Astute class submarines are set to be replaced by future AUKUS vessels designed with “world-leading sensors” and weapons. (UK MoD)

BELFAST — The United Kingdom has awarded contracts worth a combined £4 billion ($4.9 billion) to three British industry contractors for the design and manufacturer of SSN AUKUS nuclear-powered attack submarines.

The five-year Detailed Design and Long Leads (D2L2) contracts issued to BAE Systems, Babcock and Rolls Royce were announced by London on Sunday.

In a statement, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the contracts are intended to “progress the programme through the design, prototyping and purchase of main long lead components for the first UK submarines,” paving the way for construction of the vessels to start in “the coming years.”

In parallel with the design activities, BAE Systems submarine shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness, northern England, and Rolls Royce nuclear reactor site in Derby, northern England, will both undergo development and expansion.

“The aim is to deliver the first UK submarines into service in the late 2030s to replace the current Astute-Class vessels, and the first Australian submarines will follow in the early 2040s,” added the MoD. “They will be the largest, most advanced and most powerful attack submarines ever operated by the Royal Navy, combining world-leading sensors, design and weaponry in one vessel.”

Construction of SSN AUKUS submarines for the UK is planned to “principally” take place at Barrow-in-Furness, with Australia building their own, in-country, to replace its Collins class fleet. The MoD stressed that Australia “will work over the next decade to build up its submarine industrial base” to meet such an ambition.

AUKUS officials have so far not disclosed major design details of the future submarines, beyond saying that new sensors and weapons will be fitted.

By way of comparison, the in-service UK Astute class attack submarines carry Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles (TLAM) and Spearfish heavyweight torpedoes. They are also integrated with Thales designed Sonar 2076 systems and CM010 optronic masts.

Sidharth Kaushal, research fellow at the UK-based Royal United Services Institute defense think tank, previously told Breaking Defense that should the new subs be designed with provision for hypersonic weapon launches, they would offer, an “inland deep strike capability,” the like of which few other US services or international partners can currently provide outside of strategic bombers.

In an October 1 company statement, BAE said that the UK’s “next generation [SSN AUKUS] design” will incorporate “technology from all three nations, including cutting-edge US submarine technologies,” without further elaboration.

The manufacturer noted that it has already delivered five of seven Astute-class submarines to the Royal Navy, with the other two vessels at “advanced stages of construction.”

BAE is also under contract to deliver Dreadnought next-generation nuclear deterrent submarines to the UK, with work on three of the four vessels currently underway.

The latest UK investment in AUKUS mirrors a similar commitment from Australia to spend $3 billion in the US out to 2028 for long lead items and expand US shipyard infrastructure.

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