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Australia to operate two nuclear submarine types under AUKUS arrangement

An Australian Collins-class submarine, HMAS Sheean , arrives for a logistics port visit in Hobart. The class is expected to be retired closer to 2040, when Australia is expected to operate its nuclear-powered boats. (Australian Defence Force via Get)

The leaders of Australia, the UK, and the US have unveiled a phased ‘Optimised Pathway' that will equip Canberra with two nuclear-powered submarine (SSN) classes over the next two decades.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has described the move, which was unveiled on 13 March at a San Diego meeting attended by the three leaders, as “the country's biggest-ever investment in its defence capabilities”. The meeting was held as part of efforts to progress the AUKUSsecurity partnership, which was first announced in September 2021.

The initial phase of this pathway will begin later in 2023 when the US increases the number of its SSN visits to Australian ports. In these visits, Australian sailors will join US crews for training and development. The UK will increase port visits to Australia from 2026.

In 2023, Australian military and civilian personnel will be embedding with the US Navy, the UK Royal Navy, and within US and UK submarine shipyards.

As early as 2027, the UK and the US plan to establish a rotational presence at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia, of one UK Astute-class submarine and up to four US Virginia-class boats, with Australian sailors joining US crews for training and development. This initiative will be known as the Submarine Rotational Force-West (SRF-West).

The three partners stressed that this arrangement would not constitute basing, and said, “This rotational presence will comply fully with Australia's long-standing position of no foreign bases on its territory.”

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