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How long could Collins class be upgraded until they cant go on further?


Depends on how much you want to spend.

Joe Porter

Are you perhaps overstating the challenges and timescales of building reactors?
RR is proposing a series of mini-civilian nuclear power stations that still have several times the power output of a nuclear sub’s power plant.
It is aiming for an initial batch of four, a final total of 16, and proposes to have the first operating by 2030. It’s possible these timescales may slip but that is what it currently thinks it can achieve and it is proposing to do so whilst finishing off the PW2, building the PW3 and working on the designs for the power plant of SSN (R).
In short, is the UK’s capacity for building reactors quite as restricted as you suggest?Furthermore, is the process necessarily as lengthy as the historic timescales you refer to or have these at least in part been driven by restrictions on the flow of cash?
Moving on from the reactor,
Whilst it is true that the Devonshire Dock Hall only has room for three hulls to be assembled at any one time, could the time required to assemble prefabricated sections into a hull be reduced? We can only undertake the final assembly of three boats at any one time, but if the time each boat requires can be reduced, we could increase throughput.
As with the reactor, does it really take nine or ten years to build an Astute (compared with three or four for a Trafalgar) or has this pace in reality been dictated more by cash flow than technical challenge?

Tim Hirst

I’m sure with lots of money and time to train people you could speed up the build rate of RR naval reactors. But I’m sure your underestimating the differences between naval and small commercial reactors.
RR’s proposed reactors are conventional regularly refuelled reactors using standard low enrichment fuel elements.
PWR3 uses fuel designed for a 30y+ life. This fuel is custom made up of bomb grade uranium and special “burnable neutron poisons”. As you know safely fabricating anything from 80%+ enriched uranium is both very difficult and has massive safety/regulation controls around the work.

Joe Porter

I’m. not denying that there are differences and additional demands, simply suggesting that some of the obstacles and bottlenecks could be overcome if a bit of welly was applied.
Where there is a will, there is a way.
Whilst a finished reactor has to be engineered to withstand extreme stresses and for high levels of safety, much of the manufacturing work is done well away from radionuclides, Much of a reactor is simply an assembly of pipes and vessels, albeit one that is manufactured to high specifications; and that is true whether it is a civilian or a military one.
RR appear to feel — they may of course be biting off more than they can chew — that they have the engineering capacity to produce several reactors in addition to and in parallel with the reactors they are producing for Astute and Dreadnought and designing for SSN(R). What’s more, they think they can deliver an operating reactor that doesn’t currently exist even as a prototype in less time than it takes to build an Astute. If there is that engineering capacity to produce multiple additional civilian reactors, which are still engineered to high specifications even if the fuel is different, is there really no available engineering capacity for military ones?
Much of the basic engineering work can and is done in parallel with the production of the actual fuel and is carried out at different sites.
Astute boats — and presumably Dreadnoughts — are built and fitted out as a series of annular sections before being moved to the DDH for assembly as a complete hull. This workflow, which is up and running and used for all current boats, has allegedly been introduced to make the building of submarines easier and, presumably, faster, Yet it appears to have had precisely the opposite result. Astutes, using the new workflow, are taking two or three times as long to build as Trafalgars, all of which were built at Barrow but before the expansion of its facilities. We’ve expanded the shipyard, we’ve set up a new workflow to make things simpler, quicker, maybe, heaven forfend, cheaper and we’ve halved the throughput…
It took twelve years from laying down the first Trafalgar to commissioning the seventh and last. It’s been twenty years since the first Astute was laid down and boat five is still fitting out. Boats six and seven are still in the DDH. If boat seven is commissioned in 2026 ‘as expected’ it will have taken twenty five years to produce the same number of Astutes as Trafalgars, which were done and dusted in twelve.
It is true that the PWR2 is designed not to need refuelling, whereas the PWR1 was refuelled, but the level of enrichment is similar, so many of the challenges posed by the fuel for the PWR1 are comparable to those posed by the field for the PWR2 and 3, yet we got severn PWR1s in the water in less than half the time it is taking us to launch PWR2s. What’s more, the PWR2 used for the Astute was not a new design, it had already been used for the four Vanguard boats. We knew how to build it.
Granted there were problems with lost skills at the outset of the Astute programme but that is two decades ago and boats four and five, not started until the programme had been underway for a number of years (enough years to have trained a whole cohort of apprentices) and its teething problems ironed out (hopefully), have actually taken longer to build than boat one.
We are slowing down with experience, not speeding up. Aren’t we supposed to learn from our mistakes?

As to requiring lots of money and time to train people; it sort of depends what you mean by ‘lots’.
An apprenticeship takes three or four years. Let us suppose BAES and RR took on a thousand engineering and electrical apprentices on 1st January 2022 and paid them £30k p.a. as apprentices for four years – that’s probably on the generous side but let’s not quibble. In the spirit of AUKUS, they could even hire a batch of Aussies to get the Australian programme underway. That makes a total extra wage bill of £120 million by the time they are trained in early 2026, and, of course, during the four years of their apprenticeship they are doing useful work in return for their pay. The current forecast cost for the seventh Astute is £1.64 billion, over 13 times the cost of training our extra cohort of 1,000 apprentices, who by 2026, when boat severn is supposed to be commissioned, are fully qualified.
With such an expanded workforce, which it cost us less than a tenth of the price of one boat, would it really be impossible to speed up the throughput of reactors and hulls so that the RN could have more than seven Astutes before moving on to SSN(R) and before they are obsolete; and the Australians could have one or two SSNs before 2040?


Great analysis. The construction system seems to have been built to go faster but what has happened is the money flow from Treasury has got way slower.


The construction method has been set up to build them as efficiently as possible. That is not necessarily the same as “fast”.

The principal benefit of the build method is to allow you to build the boats with the fewest people you can get away with. You can throw more people at it and speed up, but only to a certain degree – at a certain point you run out of room to work or deconflict activities.

It’s not just a question of throwing apprentices at it either. The build and outfit trades are still in short supply, but the real pinch points are in roles like project/programme management and control, operations control, test and commissioning etc. There’s an entire thread about supply chain management and verification as well.

Those skills are all about organising and deconflicting activities, ensuring the right people and the right materials are in the right place at the right time. People talk glibly about computer-based tools, CADAM and all that good stuff, but the essence of it is actually having enough people who can use those tools effectively. You don’t get that with a training course or an apprenticeship – it takes years of experience – and scars!

Those also happen to be the skills that are in short supply across the UK shipbuilding enterprise as a whole. It’s one reason why the likes of Lairds and H&W are limited in what they can take on – and not unconnected with how long the T45 PIP is taking either……..

Peter Richard Galloway

All to do with drumbeat. If we made them too quickly, there would be too big a gap before we more. Same with T26

William Pellas

Okay, but China isn’t slowing down in the meantime. The post-WWII holiday is over, and the US is broke and on the verge of a civil war. Time to find out if the rest of the Anglosphere cares to spend the money and accept the responsibility necessary to defend itself and its way of life….or not.


Forget competing with China they build submarines four at a time. Russia isn’t far behind China knocking out diesel electric and nuclear boats by the half a dozen at at time.


Or we just order more. Europe is fast asleep and we are to a degree lucky that American is willing to meet the required cost to counter China with 70+ Virginia SSNs and even then it might not be enough. Europe could find itself on its own patroling the north Atlantic and the UK and France don’t have enough boats available to do it on their own

Callum okelly

Nah it definitely doesn’t take that long to build an astute.The government has always come at the military in times of financial turbulence so the military is quite underfunded and over managed.The Royal Navy could have all 7 astutes in service and ready in about 8 years of they had proper money and support maybe even quicker with a larger amount of money.If Australia was truly committed they could have 8 astutes in about a decade.


No. Know-how do not work that way.

Roland Ward

One thing that doesn’t get mentioned much in the comparison, is how willing are the USA to really hand over the blueprints to their cutting edge, most top secret navel weapons. I think an understated but most important part of this whole project, is that they want Australia to have a state of the art top notch navel asset, that doesn’t give away all of their most closely guarded secrets.
I think that is the whole reason that the Brits are a part of the deal. Astute or her successor I think will be the sub chosen, albeit stacked with American systems, but it will be a sub that is not the current American model.


Reportedly the design for an 8th Astute was completed featuring a PWR3 reactor (all Astutes are iterative upgrades of their predecessors due to the long construction times), this Astute+ while not technically a mature design would be the best combination of latest tech and off the shelf and the Royal Navy would certainly like a couple more to base out of the Pacific, a common design both based out of Perth would offer major supply chain commonalities.

My proposal would be expand Barrow with another submarine shed a combination of British and Australian workforce would be hired and trained up from the experience of the existing workforce. The first boat completed would be for the UK to iron out any bugs and reduce the programme risk to Australia then a couple of the following boats would be for Australia, the Australian workforce at Barrow would then return to BAE Australia’s Osbourne shipyard (as well as offering UK staff a relocation option) to complete the rest of the Australian order training further workforce there while the remaining British workforce would complete another one or two in Barrow, the shed would then be available for covered construction of frigates or patrol boats rather than having to build them outside as present or alternately they could then build two SSN(R) submarines in each shed rather than three in one shed giving them more room.

Tim Hirst

I’d take the PWR3 in Astute with a pinch (or shovel) of salt. A very big part of why Dreadnought and SSN(R) have such a big cross section is to accommodate PWR3.


The hull is just a flimsy shell around the pressurized section and unlikely the PWR3 is much larger if at all as its derived from steam pipe arrangement of the S9G used on the Virginia which has a beam of 10m while Astute has a beam of 11.3m (Virginia class are very long and thin). The beam of Dreadnought is primarily to accommodate the Trident silos.


Very good information . Except UK and US subs are single hulled. The outer hull – except for a casing along the ‘deck’- is the pressure hull. There may be additional casing inside reactor compartment


Afraid not, single hull and double hull refer to the number of pressure hulls, on UK and US submarines the outer hull isnt pressurised but is a hydrodynamic tear shaped hull forming to reduce its drag, water is able to flow freely between the outer shell and the inner pressure hull (which is a perfect cylinder to balance the water pressure) and requires flushing from time to time as debris can get trapped between the two. When a single hulled submarine surfaces you can see the water that is between the inner and outer hull flowing out of the holes. On Soviet submarines that had a double hull the outer shell is a pressure hull as well while the inner pressure hull rather than a cylinder tends to be made up of ovoid modules similar to space station modules which are joined togeter with narrow airlocks, water isnt present in the cavity between the two.


You are just repeating the falsehood that US and UK are full double hulls. Even the Russians have stopped doing that.
The ‘casing’ is just a deck along a small part of the upper hull thats clear of the water when on surface.

Even the Russian subs only had ONE pressure hull, the inner one. The outer hull was structurally integrated with its ring frames supporting the inner hull and also including air tanks. ( or missile tubes)

HI Sutton has a whole section on this but his links arent https so I wont show them


And therein lies the issue with Barrow. Barrow doesn’t have the space for another SM shed, or access to the dock for floating any SMs out! You would probably need to build a new assembly yard on a new site for that to happen.
The enormity of the task facing Aus should not be under estimated, unless there is a huge drive from the Aus gov, this project could just as easily fail, which would be a shame, as it’s the sensible option from a military perspective.


How come they had plenty of space for all the accumulated hull sections for Astutes when they were delayed ?
The slowness of the build process these days are largely because of Treasury drip feeding the money…see the same in the Frigate program

As for a larger hull diameter for a PWR3 reactor. Its not likely to be a much consequence for an ‘Astute Plus’ newbuild. The hull itself isnt technically the hardest part and maybe could be done in Australia and shipped in sections to UK for fitting out and launch
A SSBN is larger diameter anyway because of the twin rows of missile.


Is this in response to my post?




See my later pic of 3 Astutes side by side during final assembly.
Dreadnought is roughly 1m wider than Astute type

Floating out is only done one at a time anyway. The challenges are enormous but space isnt really one of them, as other have pointed out the Trafalgar’s were built relatively quickly in 12 years and a possible RAN Astute/derivative comes at the end of an existing production run, not beginning


The reason the current subs are built so slowly is to keep one in build at all times, so maintaining the skill sets needed.
I think it was the Trafalgar boats where this was shown up, after the production run there was a loss in personnel and the skill sets needed for manufacture, that had to be relearned for the following boats. Plus, no boats in build means how do you keep the business going…
The plan exists now to maintain capabilities, something they have got right for a change?


When the Trafalgar class was completed they started the Vanguard class, and when that was completed they began Astute class.
Your claims dont match the facts.

You are never going to have a continuous design capacity as the time between classes is so long. Astute problems came about because of software capability by BAE.


Similar situation for T26


Yes thanks I’ve seen the piccy of the 3 A boats in the shed. I was based there when we were building the last of the T boats and the first two V boats, so am aware of the issues regarding enough working space. It is an issue, and, DDH has just had a extension added, more for the coming build of the Dreadnoughts and SSN(R) as opposed to any issues with Astute and Dreadnought.

With Astutes OSD as 2035, we will need to start construction of the first SSN(R) by 2026/7 to get her ready by 2035.

You will still get 3 abreast in the shed, but, SSN(R) is likely to be much longer then Astute, hence the extra space required.

We can always build faster if we choose, but N-a-b has answered that better then I can.

Getting the Aus SSN project up and running is an enormous undertaking, people are just starting to realise what’s involved, not necessarily the huge cost either. If they do get it going, personally I think that Aus will build the SSN of their choice with the RC built either in the UK or US and shipped across, with whatever that entails.


Cavendish Dock gives you plenty of room and you could widen the lock while your at it as its a very tight squeeze for the submarines.


Yes. The construction hall is 190ft wide or 58m. The door width of course only needs one sub out at a time
the Vanguard class was 12.8m beam which is reportedly the same for Dreadnought
Astute is 11.3m, so no worries about the sea lock


Cavendish dock is really a large resovoir some way from the shipbuilding part of the dockyard. It is surrounded by mudflats and across the other side borders the town, not sure where you would build a new shipbuilding facility or how you would get all the required materials in?


I have a bridge for sale if you’re interested…..


“Reportedly the design for an 8th Astute was completed featuring a PWR3 reactor”

Frankly that is utter fantasy, there is no design for an 8th Astute incorporating PWR3. Wherever you heard that will be someone spinning a yarn based upon extreme wishful thinking.

There might be at most (and I am highly sceptical) a very basic study into developing SSN(R) using an evolved Astute but that will be it. UK Gov is not going to pay for the full design of an Astute+ and BAE Systems are not going to do it out of charity. PWR 3 is a significantly bigger reactor and your assumptions about just upping the size of the Astute hull to fit it being simple is comically wrong.

Last edited 2 years ago by Fedaykin

Seems to be room for 3 subs to be built side by side ‘in final assembly’ as of course the barrel hull shapes are constructed in nearby buildings

Last edited 2 years ago by Duker
Captain P Wash

It’s true, It was going to be built at Appledore !


You would be surprised, for every new UK nuclear submarine the subs designers are required to also produce a diesel powered variant of the hull design for comparison purposes.


No. They’re not.

That is also bollocks.

It is true that SSK “options” are required for cost and performance comparison during the approval process, but they are a very long way indeed from designs. Those comparators are not done by the “subs designers” but by the Subs NDP, which is a very different thing.

Last edited 2 years ago by N-a-B

Reportedly – by who?

It’s b0llocks.


Agree with expanding Barrow (understand workforce will increase from 10k to 17k) and training up an Australian workforce that could then return to Osborne. Similar programme ocurring for T26/Hunter.

Captain P Wash

None of the above will be anything like what is going to happen.


Stop being such a Monty Brewster.

shark bait

Get a room the two of you lovely couple

Captain P Wash

Crickey. That’s a really old film, I had to look it up !


Old but brilliant.


Will be incredibly embarrassing if neither country is able to provide AUS with SSN’s in reasonable time.

Armchair Admiral

Much as I would like to see it, it does seem to be a big ask.
The task would seem to be monumental. Building subs is tricky, nuclear ones a bit more so…from scratch in Oz..? In a reasonable time…what’s reasonable? It needs to be within 10 to 15 years I would say to be “reasonable” and to have any sort of deterrence in a meaningful timeframe.
A “standard” Astute built in UK with Australian workers embedded to my mind is the only feasible solution in any sort of “reasonable” timeframe..anything else will be years in the redesign just as a starter and even then it will probably have to have American systems designed in at a minimum. Even assuming the reactor issue could be dealt with.

Tim Hirst

If the person running a small web site can work out the problems I’m sure the US, U.K. and AUS have to. I suspect the Australians know they are looking at 15/20 years till the first patrol of their own build SSN. That sort of time scale allows them to properly build facilities and recruit crew/train up to meet the huge challenges ahead.


Even with the Collins in service they struggled to keep more than a few crewed and operational.
They first have to decide do they want a jobs program for a small state ( South Australia) or a nuclear SSN.
The two are incompatible. After letting the car build industry die in SA its a bit late to think small numbers of highly skilled workers will be more useful than the larger numbers of semi skilled car assembly they once had.

Phillip Johnson

Your info is a bit dated. The RAN has built up sub personnel to around 900 recently and the Collins class has been doing pretty well with a maintenance routine of 4 Collins in service, one in part cycle docking and one in full cycle docking in place for a few years now.
During the early years of the various Collins problems RAN submariner numbers fell below 500 and it has been a huge effort to build back. That said going above 2000 to support is 8 SSN’s does not look possible unless the RAN total personnel expands well beyond it current figure of below 15000. Just too big an ask.

Gavin Gordon

As I see it, and unless China decides that confrontation is not a viable long term policy:
• it was their sorting out the Collins issues that originally led me think the Australians can pull it off technically
• as part of AUKUS they’ll have all the expertise that any new entrant could wish for
• they bringing enhanced manufacturing capacity to the table as an implicitly trusted ally
• their front line position viz an increasingly aggressive China puts them squarely in the frame stategically
• as for all three partners build rate is bound to need acceleration (China is not be confined to awaiting our arrival in Pacific, they are with us in the Atlantic)

Phillip Johnson

It is difficult to fathom what China is up to. Their economic tentacles are everywhere and they see ‘overseas Chinese’ to be an extended part of China to be watched and utilised, but Militarily how far do they intend to go? Do they intend to confront the US globally or are they just interested in access resources and keeping the US at a distance in Asia?
The SSN’s for Australia came out of the blue as the industrial base in Australia for nuclear power is pretty much zero. The decision to look at SSN’s, and for the moment that is all that it is, certainly caused a stir. However, as the dust settles it seems to be more or less accepted that the RAN will not attempt to build reactors domestically and the module containing the reactor will be built either in the US or the UK.
In those circumstances a frontend and backend built locally and then integrated with an imported centre body containing the reactor may be just possible. I do suspect that manning 8 SSN’s will prove beyond the RAN and the actual numbers will be around the 5 mark, if they happen at all. The decision to extend the Collins class for another 10 year cycle will allow the Australian government a little pondering time, but only a little.
In the meantime a lot of meaningless speculation in the mainstream media. Perhaps the big risk is a bit like that with large carriers for the RN, what is the overall cost and what will that cost do to the rest of the RAN?


Look at the British imperial play book, as long as the market is open and they have freedom the access resources they will continue with their mercantile strategy as it works. China is only likely to go for a military option if:

short to medium term

1) The west locks them out of the market
2) the west tries to lock them away from resources
3)there is some form of unforeseen shock that impacts negatively on the population ( Economic or food security) which requires the finding of an external threat.

longer term

China is heading for a demographic and food security timebomb set for sometime around the next 30-50 years. To manage this they are going to need lots of fertile land. So they are likely to move from a British imperial/mercantile playbook to something that looks a bit more like a continental imperial playbook ( the securing of the local land mass) so from a geopolitical point of view that would be the Russian east.


Good analysis, I fully agree with the first bit.

Not sure though how you square a demographic time bomb, with food security/needing land? Ultimately a declining/aging population becomes an economic problem, as Russia has discovered; even with their massive natural resources Russia struggles to maintain a credible conventional military, in the face of such decline.

The problem is even greater for China, as much of their economy is based on endless supply of cheap labor. So IMO the severity of the potential threat from China will diminish, as these problems emerge. But it is also true that history shows such junctures often lead to conflict.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ben Robins

Hi Sonik, I think is probably the solution to the demographic timebomb that will interact with the food insecurity.

The present demographic issue China has was created by the one child rule, they are starting to row back on that now as they realise the same thing the west did a few years ago ( you need to encourage you population to breed and grow and for the modern world with public health in place that’s around 3 children per couple). So I think what we will see is a reversal of the present issue into a rampant population growth in around 1 generation ( these big adjustments take a generation) so if you look at about 50 years time, China will end up with an overpopulation demographic timebomb ( or else it will fade a generation before, due to the same forces we see in the west) . This kicks in at just around the time a lot of warming models suggest China will be really hit by warming reducing food production.

expanding empires tend to go into a period of significant population over growth leading to exporting of populations hence the massive European exodus’s of the imperial periods. I think China will probably follow this model as it’s that or allow an economic decline ( which I can’t see the communist party not undertaking a cultural adjustment to manage). This will end badly for Russia probably.


Thanks for a detailed reply. I understand the history and I agree the CCP have little other choice at this point, but I don’t rate their chances of pulling this off.

IMO the issue for China will be getting through the transition. I think they will struggle to grow their population, as the growing dependency ratio, already deeply embedded, of an aging population, starts to weigh on their economy.

Even if they do manage to increase births rapidly, the population will then get even poorer in parallel, because until these new births reach productive age (20-25 years, probably 30 years to make an economic difference) the ratio of productive age people to dependents will be much worse even than now. This will, by default, severely limit per-capita domestic consumption (already very low by western standards) and force a continuation of excessive reliance on exports. So the desired ‘decoupling’ from western consumer demand becomes impossible.

This in turn massively limits their future ability to compete on the global stage, in trade, diplomatically and militarily, to obtain the materials, food, and indeed cash, needed to support a growing population.

Historical empires are not a useful reference here IMO because in all cases, rapid economic, technological and population growth occurred in parallel, before naturally leveling up and stabilizing, as an increasingly wealthy/educated population chose to have less children. For the west, there was no demographic gap, other than a little lumpiness due to two world wars. Conversely China has the double problem of an aging population and an already overheated economy, I don’t think there is a historical precedent for this situation.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ben Robins

Hi Sonik, I agree China is going to be on a knife edge and a lot will depend on how it’s present Mercantile model works in the future. Remember the British empire was not based on internal consumption but external markets. So I think as long as China can maintain its access to resources, keep its factories outputs up and maintain its markets it will be fine. The idea of maintaining and growing wealth for the general population is not really required. Conditions for the working classes in England fell during the time its empire was growing.


I wonder, would the US put sailors onto the Aus boats as there build rate might struggle to produce enough domestic US subs?

Precedent? US engineers on our skimmers and the USMC F35b deployment.


The task is enormous. Beyond the massive technical implications, AUS doesn’t have the secrecy compartmentalization infrastructure to build with secret US/UK technology. Especially the Crown Jewels of SSN. The trident program is only a minor step further. The US/UK have nurtured this art over 80 years.


The reactor compartment and all the hardware that goes with it wont be built in Australia. The aim seems to have the modern reactor design that doesnt need refuelling over the lifetime of the boat either.
This they dont have this technical secrets to begin with.

Captain P Wash

They’ll probably buy Barracuda’s 🙂


The long and the short of it is that Australia won’t be getting any new build boats for a great many years, and their only real hope in the meantime is possibly leasing older LA class boats from the USA.


Except that after discussions with the UK and the US the Australian defense minister is recently said the first vessels will be coming into service in 2035 at the latest.

[…] Source: Navy Lookout […]


The main reason for the rate at which the UK build their subs is so that it maintains a steady state of production through the life of the project, before switching to the next design of boat. So the order is SSN design, build boats, SSBN design, build boats…without any gap in production and maintaining the workforce and hence the skill sets needed for sub production & design.
The UK has already messed up on this previously where they ended up with a gap in production, this caused a loss in design and manufacture capability that had to be expensively overcome, causing it’s own delays and problems.
They have learnt from this, and take the steady approach that maintains capabilities.

To support RAN boat production, manufacture could be integrated with AUS personnel training and early Hull production, so the first couple of boats could be made in the UK, whilst personnel learn the ropes and the manufacturing site in AUS is set up, before relocating the personnel back to AUS.


While I generally applaud the analysis, I think that some of the difficulties are a bit overstated. Let’s break this into sections:

Personnel & Training –
The RAN will most certainly increase its exchange programs with the RN and USN, specifically entering their best into nuke schools. That will probably commence shortly. Should Australia reverse course, it will be easy to just terminate such training.
Increasing the overall number of submariners is another challenge entirely, and the Australian government should consider that a marketing effort and hire the appropriate marketing and Ad agencies accordingly to make serving in this new SSN flotilla a national achievement, maybe akin to being an astronaut. Just a thought.

Construction Infrastructure –
Australia had already identified and was in the process of engineering for a brand new submarine construction facility, which upon completion, would arguably be one of the best in that part of the world. Modifying it for the construction of larger hulls – at this time – is relatively easy, as the structures haven’t been built as yet. Based on the size of the proposed yard, a larger fabrication hall shouldn’t be a problem. Further, the new facilities are going to be needed for the complex overhaul and life extension of the Collins class in the interim. Getting design help from General Dynamics is a rather simple request, as GD has assisted the UK similarly to increase production efficiencies with the Astute class.

Interim SSNs –
Leasing an out of service Trafalgar makes no sense. Their reactors are spent. The remaining boats will leave service similarly. More importantly, their onboard CMS are dissimilar to the Collins class US-based systems. Leasing a retiring Los Angeles class may make sense, except that the USN needs every single one they have to counter a reinvigorated Russian SSN fleet and a growing Chinese SSN force. But it is also not very likely, as Australia would need a fully-trained nuclear-certified crew to operate such a submarine, and that will take at least 10 years. What is more likely is that the US will forward base or operate more SSNs out of Australia, or even allow a US SSN to be placed under RAN tasking, similar to the relationship with the RN, and may permit increasing numbers of RAN officers and sailors on those boats as a form of on-the-job training until a new boat of their own can be obtained.

SSN Selection –
Let’s start with the fact that the RAN will not be able to afford a Virginia Block V. The US can barely afford them! Nor does the RAN need the capabilities of such a large boat. I’m not even sure that a Virginia Block IV is necessary, though it is a mature design. The beauty of the Virginia class, however, is that for the most part, the difference between the IV and the V is a simple hull insert. The RAN already uses US submarine Combat Management Systems, so they would be ‘at home’ in a Virginia-class in terms of systems. After all, that’s why they demanded a US system in their French-designed SSK, and we all know that French shipyards do not like to install US systems! But we’ll come back to the French later.

The Astute class, smaller in length, cheaper in cost, and with a smaller crew complement than the Virginia, is just as capable in most respects and possibly superior in others. But the RN only intends to build 7, with the last to enter service in 2026, after which the intent is to move on to a successor. In my opinion, that is where the window of opportunity exists. The tooling for the Astute will no longer be necessary, unless one of the class has a major accident and needs a significant rebuild. Therefore, that tooling could be shipped to Australia to continue the class. Substitution of US systems could be engineered accordingly in the intervening years, similar to the accommodation of US systems in the French SSK.

The Reactor Issue –
Yes, the issue is the reactor, but with Australia footing the bill, I see no reason why RR couldn’t continue to produce that reactor for their new customer. After all, that’s the point of being in business. If decisions were made by 2023, and there were ‘Manhattan Project’ style national commitments of resources, Australia could receive their first modified Astute by 2032. This will require participation by BAE, RR, GD and others, but that’s why this agreement has been structured in the first place. It’s the combining of resources and commitment that makes this possible, because the calculus is that not doing so would create a strategic environment that would be to the detriment of the 3 nations involved, and be far more ‘expensive’ than the cost of taking this course.

This may be optimistic, but certainly before the middle of the decade, between 2032 and 2035, the RAN could receive their first SSN, equipped with US systems and weapons. The slow pace of Astute construction in the UK wasn’t related to their build complexity, it was related to financing and to a lesser extent, shipyard personnel. With proper funding and proper support as previously mentioned, the build should be a more reasonable 6 years. I don’t foresee the RAN accepting more than 4 modified Astute class, and The Collins class, with refits, will serve until at least 2040.

Conclusion –
While some feel that simply ordering modified French SSNs (as Brazil is doing) with US systems could also be a viable solution, it isn’t, because French reactors have to be refueled more frequently, which would have to take place in France as Australia does not have the facilities nor industry for nuclear refueling. So it’s either take this complex course with the US & UK to eventually build RAN SSNs, or swallow hard and reverse course to purchasing French or another SSK.

Finally, this project is not insurmountable, and ironically, a case study is playing out nearby: Taiwan. They too did not have a submarine construction industry, operating boats built in the Netherlands and even older boats from the US. But according Naval News, information published by Taiwan News on November 2, 2021, a military official said that the keel of Taiwan’s first domestic submarine, called Indigenous Defense Submarine will be laid down in mid-November, “a new milestone” for the nation’s submarine project. That submarine will also operate a version of the AN/BYG-1 submarine combat management system, used in US Navy nuclear submarines. Now how did Taiwan develop the capability – from scratch – to build submarines? Look no further than the US (pronounced General Dynamics). Australia will get their SSNs, if they stay the course.

Last edited 2 years ago by DaSaint

Didn’t I read that RR already delayed the build of PWR-3 cores because of the need to refuel Vanguard? They haven’t even started building fuel manufacturing facilities for the PWR-3 and are 5 years behind schedule.

It seems they can’t handle PWR-2 and PWR-3 at the same time. I don’t know if the constraint is people, land or cash.

Tim Hirst

The reason the RN has moved to PWR3 is that it has a significantly better safety profile than PWR2. Nuclear subs will be a hard sell in Australia, buying boats with a reactor which isn’t “best in class” for safety will be a political non starter. If the Australians want a U.K. boat I don’t see any practical option other than codeveloping SSN(R).


The program will resemble that the RAN undertook accepting the Perth class destroyers from the US. A ship with completely different engineering standards and much larger than RAN escorts of that era. Submarine branch will become even more a navy within a navy if this comes to fruition.


yes. But even Germany got its Lutjens class version built in USA

I seem to remember Australia also being interested in UK built County class, but with all steam and the US Tartar missile system. It seems the logical answer was just have the Adams instead but with the Ikara added.




Nice post just like to add a few things

All our submarine captains go through foreign training courses. of the 5 current collins captains 4 have done UK or Dutch thresher Qual courses. One went through the US qualification course. Officer exchanges already happen but will next the expanded in scope and expanded to cover non officer ranks

Also part of what I think we will gain on the construction side is the technology for vertical construction of moduals, thats how they do virginia and GDEB adapted the astute production to use vertical modual construction

On the iterim SSN I agree both the 688 and the T Class would be a waste of time and money. If on the other hand if a lease on an astute or an early block virginia was thrown into the ring then absolutely seems the way to go

On the reactor side I have been hearing they are looking at putting an S9G into an astute instead of PWR2-coreH. The S9G is narrower but longer but no one knows how simple or complicated the redesign might be

This is going to be a pretty massive program. Theres so much room for it to be f***d up. I have zero belief that this government can pull it off. Not sure labor could either but they also wont be able to f*** up it worse than the LNP


Good summary, just one comment on Block V. Block V refers to several upgrades the most significant of which is the Virginia Payload Module (VPN) which adds space for 28 additional tomahawks. However, the VPN is not a required feature as only eight of the ten Block V subs will be delivered with the VPN. The VPN is an additional section that adds approximately $400 million the cost of each boat and can be dropped from the Block V submarine without any issues. AUS could easily drop the entire VPN from any Block 5 boat or order something like 2 subs with the VPN and the other 6 without it.

in terms of affordability the USN pays $2.8 billion USD for each Block V minus the VPN vs. about $2.2 billion USD for the last Astute in 2014. However, each Virginia has a 33-year reactor life vs a 25-year reactor life for the Astute. So on a per year life of the boat basis the Virginia is slightly cheaper. And that’s before you correct for inflation or factor in the cost of restarting the reactor production line for the Astute’s PWR2 reactor. So Virginia is costly but no more so than Astute, the French Suffren on the other hand does cost about a billion less than a Virginia, but it’s about half as capable and needs 2 refuelings each costing around $400 million to reach a 30 year life span.

Antonio Thomas

I agree with your carefully analysis. Nuclear submarines for RAN are a dream.


“A dream” – Are you suggesting it’s an impossible task?


Yes I think he is. And he is probably more right than most here saying that too.


There are certainly some hurdles, but if they maintain the political will, keep the Aussie public onside, it is then just a logistical challenge which CAN be overcome. We’re a pretty inventive species when required.
I’ll never underestimate the ability for politicians and civil servants to f*** it up though.
Was it Reagan that said “the scariest 8 words are ‘I’m from the government, I’m here to help'”?


Building a nuclear submarine is a supreme test for a country’s industrial base. To be honest I am surprised even we can still pull it off. (If it were me we would be throwing everything at submarine production.)

Australia struggled to be the Collins class. They were perhaps a little too confident after they pushed their O-boats to the technological edge. Their boats were way ahead of ours in many ways. But we had what 29 of them to look after and they had 6?

Australia has to defend lines of communication across the Indian Ocean. How many submarines do we need to cover what six choke points? I would be more worried about Indonesia TBH if I were them.


Agree. They couldn’t seem to figure out how to build an SSK, let alone an SSN. That’s not meant to be an “attack” against Australia, just a statement of fact. In no way was Naval Group 100% responsible for the outcome of that contract. Scope creep by the RAN, and political interference in the contract were equally at fault. In any case. I view the odds of this happening at 1000000:1. And the sad thing is they’ll be distracted by this nonsense for a number of years before they conclude that SSKs are really the most realistic option. Then, right back to the drawing board they will go. Round and round….


The SAAB A-26 is exactly what the RAN want. When the wheels started to come off the French deal the Ozzie government actually spoke with SAAB. Four of the Oceanic variant and eight of ER version (perhaps 4 with VLS.)

Oddly the SSN Barracuda is exactly what they need. But the French are sniffy about nuclear matters and they aren’t really that secure as they leak like a sieve.


To be perfectly candid, they could do with both, they have lots of ocean to deal with.


Yes they could. Heck playing fantasy fleets it is easy to make a case for us to have 24 boats (12 SSN, 12 SSK)………


Well, now that you mention fantasy fleets…..?


If Australia were to look at SAAB (for new build), it would not be for the A-26. It would be for the submarine they are pitching to the Netherlands.That submarine appears to be an upgraded Collins based design with some A-26 features. According to SAAB, the design is using A-26 & Collins as design references. There are even ASC engineers working with SAAB on the project. I would suspect they were talking wth SAAB re the Collins planned LOTE though, rather than new builds.

Gavin Gordon

If Scott Morrison had stated on his own that Australia would go nuclear subs, then I think most would just have said, “yeh, ‘right”, and moved on, X.
The difficulty I have with this is that he cancelled Attack at the same time that Australia, United Kingdom and USA all blatantly stood up as one and stated that nuclear was the intention (yes, I’m aware of the ‘askance’ that these countries were represented by SCOBOJO), and must heavliy weigh that into to the equation, alongside the undoubted advantage that nuclear subs represent in Australia’s geological and emerging strategic circumstance.
Only real immediate question I had was if the Barracuda could not have been a more straightforward swap. The reactor lifespan may not have been so paramount a factor as perhaps the French not wanting their ‘tech’ out of their hands on any circumstances; which is of course where Five Eyes comes into the picture.
Subseqently, and notwithstanding that France would indeed have been shocked, the stink that Macron then sprayed everywhere over the assumed loss of region influence may have made them reflect on any technical objections. They’ve still got an opportunity with India perhaps.

Gavin Gordon

And, to be fair to France with regard to my last paragraph, the Anglosphere may just have well have concluded that a hard power aspect of ‘Five’ was more logical strategically in view of emerging threats. Mustn’t loose sight that AUKUS is more than the Subs.


Some of us were amazed that France didn’t know what was happening. The Australians had been talking to lots of other parties for over 12 months. It was a piss poor deal; something the French have a reputation for which is well deserved. The French SSN is the ideal one. The French have just got to admit that the US and UK do nuclear technology better and therefore apart from ‘intelligence’ would have no interest in it. Sadly the reverse cannot be said.


Completely disagree with the idea that manufacturing can’t be scaled because it isn’t currently scaled. With will, money, and a plan, anything can be achieved. Whether those things exist in this project is the real exam question.

Tim Hirst

I think what you say is true, but would add “given time”. Australia has very few nuclear engineers the U.K. critically short both in RN ops and throughout the manufacturing chain. This shortage is at both operational and supervisory/management level. This can be fixed but it’s a 10/15 year job. You can’t send someone on a 9month course to be a nuclear fuel manufacturing supervisor.

Captain P Wash

All the time, China is building more and more Ships, Aircraft Carriers, Submarines, Ballistic Missile Silo’s, Aircraft, Tanks, Hypersonic Missiles, Drones and Satellites. There can be only one reason for this. I believe the “West” is waking up to this a little bit too late, what we should be doing is curtailing our financial dealings and reducing our consumption for their goods.

Armchair Admiral

The real weapon against any country is the (insert currency here), Either in use to outspend, or deny the aggressor of it.
The Cap’n has it in the last line. If they don’t have the dollars, they can’t spend them on their toys.
do you suppose Australia will sell coal in quantity again to China along with all the other minerals they produce?

Captain P Wash

Yep, Money Talks ! As for selling Coal and other minerals?, I surely hope not, lets get them “Austutes” built ASAP.


outspend, or deny the aggressor of it. – elegant phrasing. Couldn’t agree more.

Shen Jinlong

Well to Remember – Century of humiliation

800px-China_imperialism_cartoon (1).jpg
Captain P Wash

Hell Yes Shen, I follow history and worry much because of it….. China has many scores to settle truth be known.


decadent warmongering

Gavin Gordon

But better to remember that the future is the destination, not the past.
Many countries historical records furnish instances of humiliation. Often this takes the form of invasion, as in the case of the British Isles. Of course, it’s perfectly justifiable to argue that in our case the last occasion was a thousand years back so ‘doesn’t count’, if you wish to ignore that within two centuries those invaders were champions of ‘England’, whilst absolutism came under the sway of an increasingly sophisticated, broad-based legal system.
Today’s principal authoritarian superstates have in essence never understood this, evidently, adopting a more politically simplistic, monarchical route.
This is not a justification for now extinct British imperialism, but more an observation that both modern China and Russia in fact hanker after a return to those ‘halcyon days’.


It is too often that the future repeat the past.

Gavin Gordon

Regretfully true, used more for revenge than reflection. Though one could reflect that often it’s not until countries knock 7 bells out of each other that they learn mutual respect, ironically.


yes, look at Europe, millennia of constant warfare only ended after the two most destructive wars in history, one after the other. Gives an indication of the number of dead it takes to make nations peaceful.


The selling of opium and going to war to keep the market open was not one of the UKs more enlightened moments and I don’t think anyone would argue.

what Japan did to China and its population was horrendous and very hard for any population to come to terms with.

But its so important to get beyond history, learn from it but get beyond it. Look at European history, most of the worst atrocities and loss of life human history occurred on European soil by countries that now co-exist as friends. One of the most powerful messages of the EU is that even after the deaths of untold millions, nations can heal wounds and be friends.

Unfortunately China and the West are steaming into potential conflict because at them moment our economic systems are not compatible with maintaining co-existence. It’s going to take a lot of very steady and skilled political leaders on all sides to find a way to co-exist and I’m not sure either side has the statesmen of the Calibre needed to pull it off.


The Honourable British East India Company granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I main industry International trade, drug trafficking, slavery trade.

Headquarters for Lloyd’s of London, is built on the site of the former headquarter East India House.


Basically boiled down to exploit markets to the maximum In any way to create more wealth for the wealthy and bring in revenue and power for the nation.

Mercantilism at is best, not a very nice system as it exploited both workers and markets in a pretty brutal way.

The trouble is in the game of geopolitics a nation that is militarily very weak and has super power neighbours that are a threat to its existence has few options and Mercantilism is probably the most intelligent that does not involve capitulation). people do forget that from the high Middle Ages until it’s age of navel supremacy ( post napoleonic wars) Protestant England was a millitary Non entity that was surrounded by catholic powers that wanted nothing more than to destroy it for god, glory, wealth and power.

Post Cold War communist China was itself that last communist power surrounded by Capitalist super powers. It picked the cleaver play as did England. But that does mean at some point conflict becomes likely.

Nations do not have morals and will always do amoral things to protect themselves.


The problem is Capt, it’s that protection of markets and or protecting resources that is likely to trigger a conflict, especially if it triggers an economic downturn in China.

Its a difficult one as at present china’s Mercantile strategy is really damaging The western democracies and strengthening their position. It’s probably all about timing and choices, the west needs to think about when and how the conflict will likely be forced and work it’s timing on economic protection pressures from there as well as it’s military build up, hopping it can cage the Mercantile strategy and prevent a conflict with military overmatch as a threat.

This may end up leading to some pretty unpalatable geopolitical choices and sacrifice of some smaller geopolitical powers that are to exposed or close to China. As any military overmatch is going to be distance related and therefore the West’s strategy may need to be more of a millitary and economic containment of China, close its access to western markets and resource rich areas of the plant. It will lead to a new cold/hot war, but it’s how we managed the Soviet Union.


It’s as much production as markets.

TSMC in Taiwan produces over 50% of the world’s semiconductor chips, more than three times the production (by value) of Samsung, the next biggest player. What’s more, they include the most advanced chips. Instability in a region that houses these, the only two companies capable of producing 5nm chips in quantity rightly frightens the West. (Intel is stuck at 7nm, whereas TSMC is looking to move to 3nm next year).

If China took Taiwan, the Huawei argument would be writ large. Could TSMC be trusted under Chinese rule? They manufacture for Apple and Nvidia amongst others. Intel will struggle to take on its planned Snapdragon manufacture for Qualcomm. It can’t be expected to gear up further. Can Samsung?


It’s very scary how fragile modern systems of production actual are. Globalisation has created such inbuilt weaknesses in supply chains.

its the same with some many things, our national blood bottle shortage was a function of both demand but also disruptions of materials to the manufacturer.


The only thing that makes sense to me is for Australia to abandon their requirement of an existing and mature design. The closest pactical alternative to Australia’s needs is SSN(R). Both the UK and Australia favour higher automation and smaller crews. If we can get a common design track for SSN(R), we can learn from Autralia’s build of batch 1 and the UK’s build of batch 2 will inform Australia’s build of batch 3.

The UK has just started a leisurely 3 year concept phase. We need to work with the Aussies to get something into design far faster than that. It will take Australia years to gear up to build, and they’ll need a detail design to aim at.

There’ll be areas where we differ: Australia will want US systems and weapons but would probably be okay with UK sensors. To cope with that the design would have to be flexible, even modular, to use a buzzword. RR can produce PW-3 cores for the joint programme, and Australia can decide how much nuclear infrastructure to onboard at its leisure.


If you look at the original planned systems & sensors for the Attack class, the CMS was to be the same as Collins (US system), but many of the sensors were as per Astue.


A great article and brought me up to date on the submarine issues. A big part of the new agreement with AUS/UK/USA is the sale of the latest Tomahawk long range cruise missiles (air sea and land launched- JASSM and LRASM) which can have a big effect on the free movement of Chinese assets through the various choke points in the S. China Sea. They have also joined USA efforts on the latest hypersonic missiles.


Um – no. Australia had already ordered LRASM. Australia is already fielding JASSM. I think you are referring to JASSM-ER which was a recent announcement as was Tomahawk. But none of these would be considered unusual. Tomahawk had been on the cards for the Hobart class destroyers since they launched. While I am sure there is more to the new agreement than SSN’s, none of the things you mentioned are.

Australia has been working on hypersonics for some time (especially scramjet engines). See the HiFIRE & HyShot programs. Numerous test flights from Woomera test range have already occurred. This goes back more than 20 years. ie it’s not something new (though it may be to the general public).


The most logical approach I can see that ticks all the boxes for the Aussies would be to partner up at Barrow on the initial SSN(R) build to train a core workforce and de-risk the program before setting up their own production line with continuing UK support.

Even then will be extremely complicated to juggle finishing up Astute, delivering Dreadnought and tying to align all the pieces to provide both the RN & RAN with the boats.

Tim Hirst

Very true, but if the Australians don’t start on their first boat until SSN(R) is finished they won’t get one before 2045. Even if they cooperate on design and start build at the same time as the U.K. it’ll still likely be 2040. If the Australians can wait that long it’s a viable plan.

Captain P Wash

“If the Australians can wait that long it’s a viable plan”….. lol…. The PLAN will be viable way before that I fear !!!! just take a look at their latest forecasts for Submarine numbers out to 2040, It’s staggering.

Joe Porter

The PLAN’s forecasts? Or the guesses of outside observers?

Captain P Wash

Lol, You go figure my friend……. Let us know what you discover !


The answer to the dilemma is to procure the nuclear version of the Barracuda boat that France has just launched the first one, the Suffren. Instead of the French systems, the American systems and weapon load that were to be incorporated in the Attack class SSKs by the French should be retained.

The French are already working on this integration and the Attack class was/is a derivative of the French nuclear boat. Manning levels on the French sub of 65 is more suitable for Australia than the 98 and 120 on the UK and USA boats respectively.

Only downside I see in this is French nuclear propulsion system which is claimed to be inferior to the UK and USA designs due to fact that the French boat will need refueling g sometime in its operational life were as the UK Astute and the American Virginia need no such refueling during their 25-30 year operational life.

I am Groot

I am Groot


They are not inferior, they are different. The French which needs to be refuelled about every 10 years do not need to be as enriched as UK and USA. So it is not as dangerous and difficult to produced and work with…


There is no way on this earth Australian will buy a French nuclear submarine because of the refueling issue. Giving another country the ability to render inoperative a fleet of submarines is a no go for the RAN. Given how juvenile the French behaved when the Attack Class was cancelled, how can Australia rely on them to refuel the vessels anyway?


Firstly congratulation on a very well thought and succinct article on the options. Cant think a of a better one i have read. Yours and youtuber hypohystericalhistory are my goto articles for anyone wanting to know about the situation

One thing that is going to be a big determination but us plebs have no way of knowing will be what does the RAN want from the sub. The RAN and by some extention the RAAF has been targeting the navy at a more ASW force, with a doubling of the MH-60R forces, 14 posiden and the hunters class frigates being specialised ASW. I think if ASW is what they want from the SSN then the astutes would be the goal.

But on the other hand the a virginia’s are a more multi roll boat, if the RAN deem VLS is important then virginia is the only way to go, australian participation in the US hypersonic missile program was also announced during the press conference. These missile and the virginia VLS would be a perfect match

I think purchase / lease of 688’s or T Class is both a waste of money and time. If on the other had if we could get say a 10 year lease on an astute or an early block virginia then that could be something of great value. Maybe 1 off lease of an astute could work for the brits. HMS astute is now over 50% of its operational life. Theres a possibility that astute in australian service would spend less time at sea there for extending its opeational compared to astutes in UK service

The rumors I been hearing came from a friend who worked on collins and is still called in every so often as a consultant systems specialist by ASC and the navy. Hes been hearing that the plan will be an astute, the front section will be built by ASC thing like living quarters, torpedo room, ballast tanks and sonar. The reactor they are looking at what it will take to get a S9G modified to fit in. Apparently the S9G is a narrower but longer than the the PWR2-coreH but a little massaging is required to make it fit or possibly making the sub a little longer. The engineering section and C&C will built in the UK and shipped over in modules to australia for final assembly

William Pellas

NOW we see some believable details.

I agree that a modified Astute is far and away the most likely for the RAN. As for the Tomahawks and/or hypersonic missiles, these are probably intended for use on the Hunter class frigates and for air launch rather than for the new SSN’s—however, Tomahawks can still be launched via torpedo tube in the Astutes, just not very many when compared with the enormous capacity of the Virginias, especially the Block Vs.

Again, however, the Astutes make much more sense for Australia at the end of the day, when all is said and done. Assuming all of the new US kit and ordnance gets integrated into the ADF quickly, there will still be a substantial lethality upgrade even without the VLS capability in the Virginias. More importantly given Australia’s build-it-from-scratch position, the Royal Navy boats have much smaller crew requirements, thereby lowering the hurdle that must be surmounted in terms of recruitment and training before the first RAN nuclear submarines will have crews.

Tim Hirst

It depends when the RAN would want to lease an Astute. Until the first SSN(R) hits the water in very late 30’s/early 40’s the RN likely needs all seven Astute’s to meet its commitments. If they wanted a boat 3/4 years before the first domestic boat arrives then something could be done. Before then it’s makes no defence sense, it would only happen if the political priority was to support defence sales over U.K. defence capabilities.

Joe Porter

If, on your projections, the first SSN(R) hits the water in the late 30s/early 40s, then based on the build time for the Astute, that suggests steel being cut in the late 20s/early 30s. I suspect, and you may well agree, such a build time is primarily dictated by financial rather than technical considerations but your view is that the production choices dictated by these financial constraints are now so hard-wired into the system that it would take many years to speed production up. I don’t disagree that it would take time to train enough of the various specialist required in order to ramp up production, but I probably think this could be done more quickly than you do.
The last Astute is expected to be commissioned in 2026 (we may of course be disappointed in this expectation). Based on the time between the launching and commissioning of the current Astutes, that means the last Astute should be out of the DDH by 2024 and the sixth Astute some time between now and then.
On that basis, there will be no Astutes in the DDH by 2025.
Steel for the first Dreadnought was cut in October 2016 — over five years ago. Steel for the second in September 2019, over two years ago, By late 2024, when the last Astute is out of the shed, we will have been building the first two Dreadnoughts for eight and five years respectively. Even allowing to our leisurely approach to submarine building, how many more years of building will these boats require? Vanguard submarines, which are broadly similar in size and complexity to Dreadnoughts — took between four and a half and five and a half years from start of work to launch. On that basis, Dreadnought should be ready to launch and Warspite should be in the water by 2024. I rather doubt that either will be, but they could have been if we were geared up differently.
By 2024 we will therefore have two half-built Dreadnoughts and by then might possibly have started work on boats three and four. Yet, based on your timescale, we are unlikely to start work on the first SSN(R) until the very late 2020s, by which time both the first two Dreadnoughts will have been in build for over a decade and Dreadnought itself will be a stroppy teenager before it hits the water.
For the six years between 2024 and 2030 we will therefore be finishing off the first two Dreadnoughts, which by 2024 should already be well advanced — if they were Vanguards they would already have been launched by then.
Might there therefore be a ‘window of opportunity’ in the second half of the 2020s, if the Australians are interested, if there is the political will in the UK, and if decisions are taken now to ramp up the pace of work to fit in an extra Astute or two — or advance the build of the SSN(R)? After all, the MoD has already issued contracts to progress the studies for the SSN(R), the best part of ten years before you think the build will start. How long do we need to contemplate our navels?
The second half of the 2020s is still four years away. A whole cohort of employees — some of whom could be Australian — whether apprentices, process coordinators or fuel technicians could be trained between now and then. You and others have argued that some specialists take longer than four years to train but in the four years between now and the second half of the decade those specialists already working in the various necessary fields could be trained to take on additional responsibilities whilst new blood taken on now will have gained enough expertise to do useful work at a junior level and take the places of those who have been promoted to take on more responsibility.
In short, by taking decisions now could we not squeeze a few extra boats out of Barrow well before 2040, whilst the Australians build a facility and gain expertise they do not currently have?
Now, the Australians may, of course, decide they are not that interested in the Astute or SSN(R) or some Australian variant of one or other and would prefer a Virginia Block whatever or SSN(X). That’s for Australia to decide, but I would have thought the VLS tubes in the later Virginia Blocks are not really what the Australians need an SSN for. Do the Australians want an SSN for land attack or to sink other submarines? I would argue the latter.
The US is currently producing two Virginias a year but thinks that is not enough for its own requirements and wants to step up to three. Do US shipyards have the spare capacity to produce any Virginias for Australia in the foreseeable future?
If production can be accelerated at Barrow, does a UK built Astute, SSN(R) or Australian variant thereof not offer the best chance of Australia securing SSNs at a relatively early date, with follow-on boats being produced in Australia once its facilities are ready?


I think that @TH projections on SSN(R) entry into service might be a little off. Given that the Astutes have a projected lifespan of 25 years without refueling, that would have Astutes OSD as 2035, followed by Ambush in 2038.
To me, given those parameters being correct, would infer that the 1st SSN(R) hull would need to be in commission by 2034, followed a few years later by the 2nd and so on.

It is entirely possible to speed up the current build rate at Barrow, but. I suspect not enough to fit in an extra Astute or 2! Personally, I believe that as soon as Astute hull 7 is out of DDH, we will start building SSN(R) hull 1 between the ongoing Dreadnought work.
Allowing for 1st of class construction to be longer then the rest of class would fit such a timeframe, but not allow for any extra construction.

With the Dreadnoughts having a scheduled service life of some 35 years each, given that we will probably only build 7-8 SSN(R) boats, I can’t really see the pace of construction improving too much, as all these SSNs will be built a decade or so before any replacements for Dreadnoughts are required.

Given that this is decades away, and nobody can say what the underwater environment will look like 30 years from now, it is not beyond the realms of probability that build rates remain pretty static, despite requirements further afield.

I am Groot

I am Groot


Projected life will be more than 25 years .

HMS Trenchant was commissioned in Jan 89 and will decommission at end of 2021, thats 33 years.

Last edited 2 years ago by Duker

That’s very true, but then she’s had a refit, the A boats aren’t scheduled to have a refit. Think you will find that Trenchant has already decommissioned, with just Talent and Triumph left.


Sorry, that should say refit and re-fuelling, which the A boats aren’t scheduled to have.

William Pellas

There had better be at least 8 SSN(R)’s taking to the waters, and really, more like 10. That’s if the RN and HMG are truly interested in 1) attempting to preserve the post-WWII international political and economic order in the face of the massive and growing threat from China, and 2) fielding sufficient force to be able, at minimum, to participate in coalition warfare against China (if necessary). That means being able to send a fully armed and equipped carrier strike force along with half of the SSN force (4 boats) to the Far East, along with essentially the entire roster of Royal Marines.

In other words, in addition to its home defence and North Sea – Mediterranean responsibilities, to truly be “global Britain”, the RN needs to be able to field an expeditionary force composed of: 1 of the QEs, 4 destroyers (T45, T83, or a combination), at least 6 and ideally 8 frigates, Bulwark and Albion or their replacements, along with around half of the RFA, some minesweepers (whether manned or automated), and other support assets. Oh, and at least 4 nuclear attack submarines.

THAT is what a credible, globally deployable naval force looks like. I believe the UK has the means to do this while still maintaining enough home waters-plus-North Sea and Mediterranean force levels as long as Ivan doesn’t get any ideas. It’s just a question of political will. This would result in a Royal Navy composed of something like 32 – 36 major surface combatants, plus RFA, amphibious and support vessels, submarines, and unmanned units.

Expensive? Yes, though not catastrophically. Doable? Yes. If you want it.

Last edited 2 years ago by William Pellas

I believe that we will get a minimum of 7 SSN(R) hulls, did 1SL not allude to wanting 8 in a recent interview? Who knows.

I think that for the price of 10 SSNs at current prices, UK would be better off going for a 8/6 split with a SSN/SSK mix. The through life costs and Manning would be considerably lower then having 2 extra SSNs. It would release the remaining SSNs to concentrate on global deployments and supporting any CSGs forays to wherever. It would allow the SSKs to concentrate on UK waters and Littoral ops, providing IMO a more rounded and balanced SM fleet.

I don’t think anyone would argue that we didn’t need more escorts, 19 are not enough, with the exact role/fit of the T32 unclear. just having 24 escorts might not be as good as it initially looks.

It appears that we are currently prioritising basing our escort numbers around CSG and LSG ops, whilst still having vital commitments in the N Atlantic etc. Whilst we would all like a much larger fleet, realistically we won’t ever get back to the numbers of the late 80s/90s. However, a fleet of 18 hi end and 10 lower end frigate/destroyer mix fleet should not be beyond the realms of possibilities.

It is money that talks, so irrespective of the RNs wishes, HMG will decide on the final composition of the fleet.


I think we will get 8. I think we would have 8 A-boats if HMG had messed about. Submarines are best in operated on a 4 for 1 basis. They aren’t getting less complicated. Shame we can’t stretch to 12 AIP SSK too.


If we are prioritising the ’tilt East’ and sea lane protection, then it would pay us to re-evaluate what we actually need to achieve this aim. If the outcome is a smaller army and air force, then so be it. Perhaps a smaller and better equipped army/Air force is what’s needed. All should have come out of the IDR, but clearly botched it!!!
We will no doubt over the next few years see what develops, let’s hope it’s not all bad!


The Indian Ocean and defending Australia are one of the priorities now.

Our air force and army are about as small as they can be. It is kit they lack.


I do agree, I think the model of only nuclear or only SSK taken by the western navy’s is flawed. It may have fitted a nato strategy but it does not give the RN the balance it needs as SSKs and Nuclear boats are completely different platforms.

As you say the SSKs are perfect for choke points and restricted waters . We know exactly what these points are and which are important to the U.K. With SSKs we could even consider an element of forward basing closer the the required operations areas.

Effective we could use SSKs for :

1)Northern European waters ( western approaches, North Sea etc) this area is key to our security, including CASD security.
2) western med, obviously lower priority, but still a major choke point and North Africa is never going to be stable.
3) eastern med and Middle East,

As you noted 6 SSKs could cover these deployments especially if we could forward base in the med using the facilities of an a NATO partner with SSKs.

As you said we could then focus the SSNs on tasking that needs strategic mobility.


One to sit up off northern Norway to watch Russian submarines.

One for the whole Med.

One for training.


That would do yes.


Nope. Not enough. 2 for each task you mention is the bare minimum, particularly if the nuclear “boats” are going to be mostly deployed far afield in blue water operations.


I could live with your suggested mix of 28 hi and low surface combatant assets as long as there were 14 non-boomer submarines. Your idea of 8 SSGNs and 6 SSK’s (AIP boats?) with the latter tasked primarily with defending the North Sea and the GIUK Gap is spot on.


I really like your idea of an 8/6 split with the next group of RN submarines, with 6 being SSK’s. These would carry out the majority of the patrols in home waters, the GIUK region, and the Mediterranean, though augmented from time to time with closer-to-home deployments of the SSGN’s (Astute and successors).


One of the issues with Barrow will be affordable living accommodation. It’s expensive now, add more crews into the mix along with engineers and it will have a trickle down effect: would you really want to put our guests in Millom?


I doubt you’ll find anyone in Australia who wants to work long term at Barrow… I mean, the weather!


Let’s be honest there is a reason most people in the U.K. live in the south of England and there is such a difference in house prices, who likes being cold all the time.


Australia should go with the Virginia class do a deal and take every 5 th production the USA is our allie and we are hosting a lot of USA soldiers and airmen and the navy all the time we needed a couple of chinook’s recently did we have to wait no straight out of US production


Rather than stretch out the builds of boats 6 and 7, it was suggested another 1-2 RN boats could be built in the same timeframe for little extra expense.
The long build on Astute is for skills retention between classes, not because they intrinsically take a long time to build.
Its perfectly possible with the will to build an RAN boat in the U.K. by 2030 and ship tooling and a skilled up ASC workforce down under for indigenous builds by 2030.

Armchair Admiral

“its perfectly possible with the will”. This is the phrase that will determine what is built, where and how fast.
I like the idea as above. It seems perfectly feasible to a layman, given the will and the cash, Oz cash in the main.


lucky Australia has a dirth of very highly qualified people working in the renewable power lndustry cleaning solar panels and changing the oil in wind turbines. Should be no trouble doing a weeks conversion training to operate and maintain nuclear reactors.

Geoffrey Hicking

While I cannot comment on the feasibility of this (only to say that the next few generations of SSN building will be difficult for all except the Americans- I am unsure how we will stop the SSN fleet falling below 2 in 4 generations’ time), I think it will be important for a CANZUK mentality to take place in the UK and its allies. If our submarines are now restricted to the Atlantic, the need for a mental “esprit de corps” is needed- seeing SSNs in the CANZUK powers are under the same banner (however much of a fiction this may be) allows us all to feel that we are part of the same Great Power. Good for morale.

(somewhat in the same way that UK and US SSNs feel that they are part of the same joint-force)

I am Groot

I am Groot

William Pellas

I don’t know why the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand don’t just stop the madness and either 1) go back to a combined military, or, more likely 2) stand up some kind of modern equivalent to the old CIGS, which would at least make it possible to more quickly assemble a joint force even if it would no longer be under sole UK command.

Really, I think all of those nations should just get the band back together and have done with it. Were Australia, Canada, and New Zealand truly all THAT gung ho for political independence from London? It doesn’t look that way to this American, at least not compared with 1776. I think what those countries were really hacked off about was shedding their blood in the Queen’s wars.

Alright, you got your wish. Now what? Are you really all that happy to be paying your own way and fielding your own militaries and all that, especially now that China is this enormous giant? Australia has taken some very sensible steps and is buying mostly US kit and that’s fine, but the US has real problems, and if we’re no longer willing or available—a distinct possibility, whether anyone else wants to realize that or not—then what?


After WW2 it would have made sense for the White Commonwealth to come together as one block to balance out the US and leaver us (the UK) out of more European entanglements. We could have left (perfidious) Gaul to lead Europe with either re-militarised ‘Western Germany’ and Italy in support or a ‘neutral’ western Germany either as a whole or broken down into constituent states and taking up the Swiss model of defence. The UK would have supported as a base for US air and providing air assets. The White Commonwealth main force would obviously be naval with their armies restructured along the lines of the USMC. Canada could still be keyed into NORAD.


A lot of silly 1950s ideas, non of which match up to the reality of how the ‘Dominions’ became fully independent.

It was 1933 or something before WW2 and even then they were expected to raise their own armies/navies/ airforces and pay for it.
They didnt even get their own passports till around 1948.

Its all too silly for words the basic understanding in Pellas comment

Commonwealth Loyalist

As a Kiwi emigrated to the USA and a dual citizen, I can really sympathize with some of your points. In my day and previously, NZ was very loyal to the Commonwealth and the US who saved us in WWII, we even sent volunteers to Vietnam.

Unfortunately it has now reverted to head in the sand thinking, hoping to stay neutral like Switzerland, without realizing the only way that is possible for Switzerland has been to be armed to the teeth. If there is anther war, which God please forbid, NZ will be taken by surprise again when the US has its way with it, the same as in WWII, using it as a base whether they lie it or not.

The UK abandoned us during those years when we sent our armies to help them in Egypt but they declined to help us when Japan atacked, so in the current situation there will be some fences to be mended,

Sorry if all this sounds so familiar


Captain P Wash

Maybe I’m wrong but I was unaware Japan Attacked New Zealand or that Britain actually Abandoned them.

Armchair Admiral

Not a reply to the captain in particular but just to get back on track.
How does UNmanned Submersible Vehicle fit into all this? It is being touted for all sorts of good stuff and a few large USVs would be a good Australian force multiplier.
I suppose they will be small beer money compared to an Nuclear boat, so having (say) 4 nucs and 4 large USVs would give you more bang for your buck than for instance 6 boats? (Depending On USV range and speed etc. Is that something to think about?


Must have missed that during my history lessons!!!!

Captain P Wash

Ha….. I think it might have been in the same lesson as the Defence and Assault of the Channel Islands or how to Divert Massive Enemy Resources to build impregnable Islands close to Britain whilst sailing on past !….. to be fair though, Whilst Britain spent Years being Bombed and losing untold Ships and Aircraft and fighting on all fronts in all parts of the Globe, NZ lost 4 ships and got overflown by a few Jap Aircraft. Not trying to belittle the bloke above here though !


I don’t think that’s it’s in any way fair to say the U.K. abandoned NZ. It after all sent force z to its death to protect Australia and NZ at a time when the U.K. was at risk from invasion at any time.

Its also a fact that later war the US prevented the U.K. from participating in the Pacific theatre. As even during the extreme of WW2 the Anglophobic elements of the USN were trying to remove the U.K. from the Pacific theatre.

Captain P Wash

Not to mention the Red Plan from the 30’s.


You do realize that militaries have contingincy plans for everything right? That is what all those staff officers do during peacetime.

Captain P Wash

Yes…… That’s why I posted about the Red Plan…. Next ?


Force Z was squandered attempting to defend the British colonies of Singapore and Malaya. There was zero threat of invasion of the UK in Dec. 1941. Many old time Aussies and New Zealanders had hard feelings toward the UK. Try to view things from other than a myopic UK biased view.


As opposed to viewing things from a isolationist US biased view no doubt!!!

Captain P Wash

Crikey, where did you pop up from ? Any Idea why the UK had “Zero threat of invasion” ? or are you deliberately choosing to ignore actual and historical events like the Battle of Britain ? And don’t ever dismiss the loss of life of so many brave sailors in such a distasteful manner. Show some respect for their lives as we do every November 11th.


Seconded.. almost 900 sailors lost their lives when force Z was overwhelmed trying to intercept Japanese invasion forces. They went out to fight knowing they had no air cover and it was a risk but tried anyway. A bit of respect for their bravery and sacrifice would be nice.

Also the guy who decided the use force Z to try the intercept put his own life on that bet and the commander in chief east India station Vice Admiral Tom Philips died with his flag ship.

If his risk had paid off and he had intercepted the Japanese invasion fleet, it could have made a significant difference to the balance of power during the Pacific conflict.

As a final point it had still not been fully formed in tactical doctrine of the time that a Capital ship could not survive against air power. Infact it was force Z that gave that lesson, hindsight is a great tool for learning after the facts not before.

Prince of Wales died hard and took a fair number of Japanese airmen ( who were also very brave men) with it. But actual suffered a luckily torp strike early on hitting close to a prop shaft, shattering the watertight integrity along most of the length of the prop tunnel, causing an immediate mobility kill and power loss to a fair number of AAW turrets as well as uncontrollable flooding. That one lucky ( unlucky) hit killed the ship( there was a good chance she would not have got back to port and slowly sank), but she took a long time and lot of fight to be finally overwhelmed.


Some one had blunder’d,
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:

Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell,
When can their glory fade?
All the world wonder’d.

Last edited 2 years ago by Narragansett

ummm Japan would not have been in a position to invade NZ or Auz without knocking out Singapore and the RN. Hence force Z. Force Z was not squandered it was over matched by AirPower after its air element was delayed. At the time force z arrived in the Pacific, war had not be declared between the U.K. and Japan.

As for no threat of invasion of the U.K. in 1941 are you actually joking, Hitler was planning to invade as soon as he was ready. No one really expected Russia to hold like it did ( even the Russians) and Germany was planning to come strait over the channel when they were ready. The British government were still preparing for invasion up until 1944 when it was clear the defeat of Germany was very likely.

The British public could see the enemy from our shore, people were killed every day in our towns and cities. The potential invasion ports were 30 miles away from the mainland.

Japan it its high water Mark was around 4500 Km from NZ. I think you my be living in a bit of myopic biased Eco chamber as I’ve got a fair chunk of family in NZ as well as my Family Visiting NZ a lot, also got a fair few NZ mates and never once have I ever had a you abandoned us conversations and it would have come up, as my Irish friends always put a pop in about the 6 counties.


Does Beijing know about you wanting to stay neutral? She is doing everything she can to accelerate the Chinese takeover.


They dont seem to be anymore neutral than Denmark is.
They too dont allow nuclear weapons/ships from the allies

geography changes everything, thus Ireland is actually nuetral and Portugal while a member of nato doesnt play a big role compared to say Norway.


I should have said ‘The New Zealand PM is…….’

I spotted the typo after I couldn’t edit.

You are going have to expand a bit on the first line.

Ireland is neutral? In theory yes. But have they asked Berlin, sorry Brussels about that?

I would say for Portugal that wealth plays a part too. I don’t really care about Russia. I do think North Africa will be a bigger risk eventually. And then what of Norway? I get your point. 🙂

Dick Van Dyke

You ok Hun ?


Okay, Duker. So, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada were not angry over losing so many of their sons in “England’s War” (that is, the First World War)? This did not help break the old Empire apart? Sure, everyone came together for the second go around—was there really any other choice?—but the bloodshed in WWI absolutely gave a great deal of impetus to full independence from the mother country and its monarchy.

I realize that the Commonwealth of Nations was already in existence, but even allowing for the gradual decolonization and political distancing from London that was in the air even before the world wars, the fact is that it did not formally come into existence until 1926 (or 1931, depending on whether you think the Declaration or the Statute was more meaningful)—that is, in the wake of the destruction wrought in the “Great War”.


Waiting for SSN(X) or SSN(R) would obviously result in the best final item for Australia, but with an eta of 2040 (for the first boats), I’m not sure the Collins could be extended that far beyond their designed service lives by that much (for all the fatigue reasons mentioned in the article, regarding retired US or UK subs).
The Collins class were designed to retire in 2026, 2028, 2029, 2031, 2031 & 2033. Contrast that to a commissioning schedule (based on 3 boats at a time, staggered by 1 year & 5 years in the construction hall each) would be: 2040, 2041, 2042, 2045, 2046, 2047, 2050 & 2051.
So unless Australia is willing to have a gap between the service lives of the Collins class & their SSN(Aus), the Collins boats would have to be extended by between 13 & 15 years. If this is not possible, then there would both be a gap in coverage but, unless they were posted to US or UK subs during that time, skills loss too.

Firstly, whatever happens, I think Australia will be building their own vessels (not all of them, reactors for instance, but the majority will be built Azzie-side and not the first boats in the US or UK (partly for political reasons, but also because of a lack of capacity (which makes very little sense to expand in either US or UK solely for the Australian subs).

I also think that when they say “mature design” they don’t mean it’s restricted to legacy “off the shelf” designs (else SSN(X/R) would be out of the running completely). I also think the Virginia option would be too costly, from both a build and manpower perspective. I think the Astute is more likely, but not with a PWR-2 reactor. Part of the whole point is to have a reactor that will see the subs throughout their entire service lives without refuelling, so Australia could manage with their almost non-existent nuclear infrastructure (a single small research reactor).

Depending on how complete the reactor design is, a redesigned Astute with either a PWR-3 or S9G (and accompanying higher-power machinery) might be an attractive option. While it would require more work, an added section with 2 or 3 VLS modules (as the likes of the US & Russia have done) would also be a possibility.

Assuming some help from the US, I think the UK would be keen to explore an option like this as a way of offsetting the cost of (and “beta-testing”) some of the design aspects of the SSN(R).
And it would give the RAN a much more up-to-date sub design than the Astute, with increased missile capability (around the time hypersonic missiles are forecast to be introduced), for less money than a Virginia but much quicker than waiting around for the SSN(X/R).

Last edited 2 years ago by Jim

You will find that Australia are providing the Collins class with a ‘life’ extension refit taking their OSD past 2040 to allow for this. The first SM to enter this phase is I believe, the Francomb in 2026.

I think that you will find adding a different RC into a existing design isn’t as straight forward as some seem to think! You would probably be better off selecting a legacy design (Astute/Virginia) or selecting entirely new as in SN (R/X) rather than go down a unproven hybrid route.


One thing no one has touched on is the racial aspect of this. Australia will need to entice a lot of smart, science focused graduates. Which nationalities do not have the culture to be studious these days? White Anglo Saxans. Which cultures do focus on education and studies? Asians.

So there’s always going to be some of the USA WW2 Japanese internment sentiment just brimming under the surface, because I bet half the engineers and scientists will look Asian, even though they’ve born and raised Aussie just like the other 25 million people Aussies.

And there’s always going to be outsiders (outside the submarine military) who will automatically assume an Asian face means CCP spy. Which is a pity, since a lot of Asians do not actually like the CCP.

This will simply add another layer of complexity to the nuclear subs, unless Aussie culture does a 180 degree shift and they can find, say, 50 Anglo Saxan Aussies per year to resist the “nerd”, anti education/pro macho culture and take the plunge and study a difficult field, with an uncertain future, at least within Australia.

This is my 2 cents on this very wide, difficult, medium to long term project.


Anglo Saxans? Congratulations on the single most bone headed post of this thread. Your 2 cents is ignorant and complete bollocks.


This may seem daft but would the USA reactor fit the Astutes? Why are the US SSN’s so much longer?


Ok I’m a Brit so it might be a bit bias but I will try not to be. The Virginia class boats are good but big, have large crews, are designed not as hunter killers but attack boats and with the type Vs coming to the end of the design line. The RN however are designing a new SSN probably based on the Dreadnought class and I hope because I know I would have two versions attack and hunter killer. By attack I mean to have a midship section that can have three to four payload modules for cruise missiles, SBS operations etc. So the RN SSN would be the latest design whilst the US version is an advanced variant of an old design. However to achive the contract the British Government might need to build one or two more Astute class subs so we could lease the first two to Australia. Would the UK Goverment invest £2.2 billion for a possible £15 billion contract and the return on the lease, I don’t know, I would as it seems like a good investment. Worst case is two new SSNs at no cost. I do think that the RAN want hunter killer submarines with a small crew, no refueling and really good sensors. The Astute is that, the Virginia is not. Don’t get me wrong the Virginia class are good boats, but designed as a multi combat sub and as anything that is multi roled they are not very good in one thing or another. Whereas the Astute has a limited land attack capability but they are designed to kill enemy submarines and combat ships, the torpedo is their main weapon. When it comes to cost the Astute is a much better £ for £ than the US equivalant. The one issue that I don’t know about is maintance, how much babysitting does both types need, something tells me that the Virginia class need more, I don’t know why but they just seem more delicate. So my conclusion is this if the Aussies want a multi role attack sub go with the Virginia class, if they want an out and out hunter killer go with the new SSN(X) and use one or two Astutes for practice.


I’m an Australian living in Adelaide and I agree with you. The original Australian Sea 1000 project never sought a large land strike capability as the Virginias offer. It was supposed to be an anti-ship and anti-sub boat with intelligence capability in peacetime. A modified (updated) Astute would fit that perfectly. The cost and crew requirements also significantly favour Astutes. We could have ten Astutes in the water for the cost and crew needs of 8 Virginias. Plus BAE is in Adelaide, which would greatly simplify the contracting if the choice was modular construction of eight Astutes in Adelaide with eight reactor compartments built in Barrow. Australian industry is capable of making the hulls. HS80 and HS100 steel is already made in Australia for high pressure applications in the mining industry.

Frank Owen

It is likely that the submarines reactor compartments will have to be imported pre-fabricated from the US or UK…. ” This the classic “Bring Mohammed to the Mountain” but an alternative approach could be to build the complete submarine (standfast the reactor compartment) in Australia, set it all to work and then transport the submarine to the supplying country using a heavy-lift ship. That would minimise the impact on the foreign yards and maximise the Australian content (so vital for ongoing support). It would also avoid the regulatory and safety issues of having a reactor sitting in the Australian shipyard which had not been designed or built for the eventuality..


This article was recently published on an Australian Defense website (ASPI) which linked to this article so I am commenting here. I am an Adelaide engineer not in the ADF so these are only my own opinions based on what the RAN has said publicly so far.

i appreciate there are many challenges in delivering SSNs but I think this article is too pessimistic. If this deal were impossible it would not have been signed. It was developed by the RAN Chief of Navy and RN First Sea Lord (then Radikin). USN Head of Naval Ops also signed off. They know the constraints. Consider the following, all from public sources in Australia.

  • the RAN budget for this was $50 billion in 2016$ or £30 billion. Forecast outturn cost was $90 billion. That is more than double the entire Astute program budget.
  • there is political acceptance of SSNs in Australia by both major parties and community support. So regardless of who wins the next election, this will happen. The main political concern is why has there been so much delay, not buying subs.
  • RAN’s Collins class, with life extensions, will last to 2036. Waiting for SSNR or SSNX is not a realistic option for RAN. RAN Chief has said it will be an existing design.
  • Aussie PM has said it will be at least 8 boats to be built in Adelaide.
  • There is a budget to upgrade ASC shipyard. It is being surveyed by the RAN project team. Electric Boat could assist in bringing it up to spec, as they did at Barrow.
  • RAN is no longer short of sub crew. They have over 600 and Collins class has high rate of in service now. Expansion to 2000+ sub crew would be needed for 8+ SSNs. RAN Chief has already said this expansion will be achieved over 15+ years to build.
  • ASC workforce is already being increased for Collins Class life extension project. This has a separate and additional $6 billion budget. So skills will be developed.
  • Australian industry has built subs (Collins class) before and HS80 and HS100 steel is made here (mainly for use in mining industry).
  • There is however no prospect Australia could build reactors. The obvious solution would be a modular build similar to Virginia class with reactor compartment, including reactor, built in UK or USA, depending on which design is chosen.
  • In my view many factors favour a modified Astute design being chosen. These include cost, size (fits on current ASC slip without lengthening), crew numbers, historic RAN RN links (10% to 20% of RAN sub officers are ex RN), leading to easier adoption of RN SSN operational procedures, uncertain availability of high tech features in Virginia (requiring Congressional approval) and lack of spare US capacity, due to stretched Virginia build program.
  • that leaves the question of non-availability of more PWR2 reactors for Astutes. I note in the comments here reference to possible use of the US S9G reactor design, which already fits in the Virginia which has a slightly narrower pressure hull than Astutes. If that works it would resolve many issues. Plus the RAN would then gain experience maintaining S9G reactors which would be valuable if the USN wished to base or replenish SSNs out of HMAS Stirling.

The preference for Astutes is only my own opinion. We shall see what happens.


What I am learning from this about the RN is that our current shipbuilding infrastructure is barely adequate to upkeep a minimal fleet of 7 SSNs and 4 SSBNs, which almost every commentator including the defence select committee believes to be the absolute base rate of just about enough. We’ve had to throw up our hands and admit we can’t take on work to procure SSNs for our allies, and despite a general consensus in defence circles that 1-2 more Astutes would be the best possible expansion for the RN’s fleet without breaking the bank, we don’t actually have the shipbuilding facilities to do it.

I think this is a concerning shape for the industry to be in and it imposes a limit on future growth should priorities change. We should be getting careful cost estimates for the expansion of nuclear construction capabilities as soon as possible and examining our options to get more boats in service. The industry for the surface fleet is in a stable position right now, if still somewhat below hopes, but this is a huge hole in our capacity that needs to be addressed if we’re to stay a credible nuclear power over the next few generations.

Especially since the government is currently exploring possibilities for commercial nuclear investment as well. I assume the skills, technologies and infrastructure for commercial and marine nuclear plants are somewhat transferable, particularly with Rolls Royce looking into small modular reactors. This would be a good call even for peacetime policy.

Rob Simmons

Having recently retired from 23 years with a major UK defence contractor, I would make the following observations:-

  1. The risk associated with redesigning and building a modified Astute with PWR3/S9G should not be underestimated. There would be all the potential for slippages to schedule.
  2. The RN and RAN have a long tradition of integration and exchange posts. (AE1 and AE2 had a high proportion of RN personnel!). Post WW2, the RN formed the 4thSM Squadron based on Cockatoo Island and operated 3/4 T boat conversions as target vessels to support the development of RAN ASW training. The crews were RN. Their families lived in Sydney.
  3. Proposal that as least one RN Astute (guess two would leave our Atlantic commitments exposed) is deployed to Australia to support the Tilt East policy. Based long term in Australia. Crewed as an overseas posting (i.e. to include families). May need support; conversion of RFA Argus as a Submarine Depot Ship and building of “AFD 61” to undertake emergency dockings prior to build of long term support solutions. Commence RN/RAN exchange posts as necessary. The timing and identification of which Astute would need further investigation and optimisation.
  4. As a matter of urgency, commence the identification, and posting, of RAN personnel to undertake the RN Long Nuclear Course. Additionally to identify suitable civilian Australian engineers that could be sent to RRA and BAE Systems to commence their secondment and training.
  5. Consider a joint UK/Australian design team from the outset for SSN(R). Hopefully a common design could be agreed which would minimise development schedule. A word of caution; Hunter Class and Canadian CSC are somewhat different to T26!
  6. Consider two parallel build streams for build of SSN(R); Barrow and Adelaide. BAE Systems Australia have commenced building of Hunter class at Adelaide. Australian HS80/HS100 steel to be used for both build streams. I assume that the PWR3 would be built in UK. Integration of Australian personnel in the build so that they could conduct required Through-Life maintenance in Australia.
  7. Australia is the third largest world source of uranium (after Azerbaijan and Canada). Does UK source its uranium for PWR2 from Australia?
  8. I agree with the general view of commentators above that the RAN would be better served by the Astute/SSN(R) solution which is very much a Hunter-killer, the nearest thing to the three USN Seawolfs. The Virginias, particularly the latter Blocks are very much Attack submarines; sub-optimal for hunter-killer manoeuvrability.
  9. All USN SM Officers are nuclear trained whereas for the RN only engineer officers are nuclear trained. An RAN Virginia/S9G solution would require a higher nuclear training burden if the RAN were to follow a USN solution.
Brett Mitchell

“We want Eight and we won’t wait!”

This week the UK and Australian governments announced RAN crew would be serving aboard the RNs newest SSN, HMS Anson. Good news on AUKUS progress.

The issues raised in the article are framed around the idea of limited Astute production capacity in the UK.

That would make sense with a limited budget. However, the Australian government will be paying ~£25 billion pounds for eight boats. That’s a lot of money to increase productive capacity.

Hire and train staff, expand facilities, and provide the money to get it all done quickly.

The concern in Australia, which may not be clear to commentators in the UK, is urgency, not project cost or pork barrelling marginal seats in South Australia. China is acting extremely aggressively…alarms bells are ringing for the Australian voter. The echo from the pre Great War Dreadnought race is again “We want Eight and we won’t wait!”

The French diesel submarines were going to cost $90b to buy and another $135b to operate over 30 years. UK built Astute will be far cheaper. Around one half the cost.

Public opposition to nuclear powered boats is limited to the radical far left greens. Mainstream Australia is firmly behind the goal of the RAN operating SSNs.

The most effective way to equip the RAN with SSNs is off the shelf, UK built Astute. Money quite simply isn’t an issue.

Eight boats by 2035.

Get started now and get it done.


I wonder if other yards in the UK could ramp up production to assist Barrow in building maybe #1-3 of the RAN boats. Nothing that cant be done to get these boats to the RAN in a hurry should be allowed to stand in the way. That’s my two pennies worth. They could be built in a dock like the USN boats. Put a roof over..