The University of South Australia (UniSA) with two Adelaide-based SMEs, VPG Innovation and SMR Australia,…
The US Congress’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), to be voted on this week by the US Senate, now contains provisions enabling the Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) agreement. The bill was passed by the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee following negotiations with the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Sub-Committee on Seapower, Senator Tim Kaine.
Recent amendments to the US State Department Authorization Act of 2023 have approved the transfer of two Virginia-class submarines to Australia under the AUKUS agreement. A third boat will be sold to Australia via the US Department of Defense’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. The amendments also hasten technology clearance for AUKUS-related exports.
Australia is still working on the optimal pathway to introduce conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines. However, it seems likely the first two boats will be 7,800-tonne Virginia-class Block IV vessels equipped with 12 Vertical Launch System cells for BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM).
Senator Kaine took the Australian ambassador in Washington, Dr Kevin Rudd, to the Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) shipyard at Newport News in Virginia that builds the US Navy’s Virginia-class submarines. They were accompanied by Under Secretary of the Navy Erik Raven and ADM Daryl Caudle, commander, US Fleet Forces Command.
“The hard work of our shipbuilders strengthens our national security and boosts our economy,” said Senator Kaine at the HII yard. “The AUKUS agreement will help further Virginia’s critical shipbuilding leadership, strengthen our alliances, and bolster security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. I’m grateful to Ambassador Rudd and Under Secretary of the Navy Raven for coming to see Virginia’s work on these submarines and reaffirming the importance of the AUKUS partnership.”
“It was great to join Senator Kaine to see firsthand how the world’s most complex ships are designed, built and maintained,” Rudd said. “The expertise of the United States Navy and American shipbuilders will be invaluable to Australia as we develop our own sovereign submarine industrial base, while boosting the resilience of our allied submarine supply chain and furthering security objectives for all three AUKUS partners.”
NNS is one of only two shipyards capable of designing and building nuclear-powered submarines for the US Navy – the other is General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut. HII already has a presence in Canberra and stands ready to leverage its longstanding expertise in nuclear shipbuilding and other defence technologies in support of the AUKUS lines of effort.
Subject to US Congressional approval, Australia will purchase at least three and up to five nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines. “The expertise of the United States Navy and American shipbuilders will be invaluable to Australia as we develop our own sovereign submarine industrial base, while boosting the resilience of our allied submarine supply chain and furthering security objectives for all three AUKUS partners,” said Ambassador Rudd.
Kaine has been a leader in helping ensure the AUKUS agreement is implemented effectively. Last month, he helped write and pass the NDAA out of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), which includes further investing in shipbuilding, improving acquisition processes, expanding US defence industrial base capacity, and supporting workforce development initiatives to ensure that the United States is able to fulfill the AUKUS agreement and our other shipbuilding needs.