First transfer of nuclear propulsion technology in six decades

  • Compared with conventional submarines, nuclear-powered subs are usually larger and need more expensive infrastructure and maintenance.
  • The majority of submarines in operation currently are conventional diesel-electric models, which are smaller and generally cheaper to maintain.
  • Australia does not have the expertise to build its own nuclear submarines so it had to buy or acquire the ability to build its fleet from either the US or the UK.
  • Australia had originally planned to buy diesel-powered submarines in a 90 billion Australian dollar ($60bn) deal agreed with France in 2016, but it abruptly scrapped that agreement in 2021 in favour of joining AUKUS. The decision set off a diplomatic firestorm with Paris, which has just recently abated with the election of Albanese.
  • The submarines deal marks the first time US-derived nuclear submarine technologies have been shared in more than 60 years. The previous and only other time was when Washington helped London design its undersea fleet.
  • Under the plan announced on Monday, the UK and Australia will eventually produce and operate a new class of nuclear-powered submarines — SSN AUKUS — which will be jointly built in both countries and will include the latest US technologies.
  • Australia’s acquisition of nuclear submarines will place it in a group of just seven countries that have such vessels, joining the US, Russia, China, the UK, France, and India.