By Peter Roberts
BAE Systems and its Australian arm could be the front runner in the supply of nuclear-powered submarines to the Royal Australian Navy under the AUKUS agreement, according to UK media reports.
The London Sun reported that senior ministers were open to the idea of supplying partly-constructed Astute class submarines (pictured) to Australia which are constructed at BAE Systems’ yard at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.
The Sun said: “PM Rishi Sunak is set to unveil the plan alongside more details on the AUKUS deal when he visits Washington DC next month.”
While the newspaper article was thin on details, the story does confirm @AuManufactruring report a year ago that BAE Systems Australia CEO Gabby Costigan had been promoted to a role as Group Managing Director of Business Development in London.
Costigan is highly regarded within the global group, having secured a $35 billion deal to construct Hunter class frigates at a new yard built by the federal government at Osborne in Adelaide, and grown BAE Systems Australia from 3,000 to 5,000 staff.
The government’s Australian Naval Infrastructure began constructing a new submarine shipyard at Osborne, only to pause the project with the cancellation of the contract with France’s Naval Group to build conventionally powered vessels at the site.
While I wouldn’t overstate the importance of the Sun article, an agreement with the UK would answer many of the questions hanging over the submarine project.
BAE Systems is delivering seven Astute Class hunter killer submarines, four of which are in-service with the Royal Navy, building Dreadnought class ballistic missile submarines, and working on designs for a future Submersible Ship Nuclear Replacement (SSNR) programme.
Like its counterparts in the US, manufacturing capacity at Barrow has become an issue for the UK.
Adding a new submarine yard at Osborne – built including the latest digital shipyard concepts and managed by a UK company – would vastly improve the UK’s ability to build submarines as the two BAE Systems yards could support each other.
The UK could build sections of vessels related to nuclear propulsion, while Australia could construct and potentially export simpler elements such as crew quarters and those parts of the ship unique to Australia such as the command deck. The US would be a major supplier of technology to Australia.
The federal government has said repeatedly that AUKUS will be a tripartite effot involving the industrial bases of both countries.
The only drawback is that we get Astute vessels which are at the end of their design life.
This could work if Astute was seen as a stepping stone to the three nations developing a single design to follow on from current programmes which could be built in each of the three nations.
BAE Systems Australia has been approached for comment.
Picture: Royal Navy/HMS Astute