LONDON — The British Government has committed nearly £4 billion, or $4.9 billion, to the next phase in the development of nuclear-powered submarines as part of the tri-national AUKUS program with Australia and the United States.
BAE Systems, Babcock Marine and Rolls-Royce received contracts with that combined total sum, with work aimed at developing a nuclear attack submarine for Britain and Australia.
Design, prototyping and purchase of key long-lead items for the first U.K. submarines set for delivery in the late 2030s are covered by the investment, new British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps announced in a speech to the governing Conservative party conference, which opened in Manchester on Oct. 1.
BAE said in a statement that the funding will cover development work up to 2028, enabling the company to begin detailed design and start to procure long-lead items.
Australia announced in March it would partner with the British in designing and building a submarine known as SSN-AUKUS.
The boat will incorporate Australian, British and US technologies.
Primarily, the AUKUS deal, agreed in 2021, covers submarine construction, basing and operation, but a second element of the deal also includes a range of separate high-tech weapons.
The first SSN-AUKUS boats will be built at BAE’s Barrow-in-Furniss, northwest England, yard as a replacement for the Royal Navy’s Astute class attack submarines starting in the late 2030s.
Barrow is currently building the final two of seven Astute boats and has also begun construction on three of what will be a fleet of four Dreadnought-class nuclear missile-equipped submarines.
BAE said that the new contract with the MoD also includes significant infrastructure investment in its Barrow shipyard, investment in the supply chain and recruitment of more than 5,000 people.
The company has been looking at design options to replace the Astute since at least 2018.
Australian-built boats will follow first deliveries to the British, with the first platforms from a site near Adelaide scheduled for handover in the 2040s.
The conventionally armed British and Australian boats will both use nuclear power plants built in the U.K. by Rolls-Royce, although elements of the propulsion system will come from the United States.
Speaking to Conservative Party members, Shapps said: “This multi-billion-pound investment in the AUKUS submarine program will help deliver the long-term, hunter-killer submarine capabilities the U.K. needs to maintain our strategic advantage and secure our leading place in a contested global order.”
Up to five Virginia-class boats are slated for purchase from the U.S., with deliveries in the 2030s allowing the Australians to get to grips with the operation of its first nuclear-powered submarines ahead of delivery of the SSN-AUKUS.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.