Australia's Nuclear-Sub Program Could Boost U.S. Navy's Parts Supply

A Virginia-class attack sub at Huntington Ingalls Industries (USN file image)

Published Nov 13, 2023 9:12 PM by The Maritime Executive

The "AUKUS" nuclear submarine partnership between the U.S., Australia and the UK is beginning to take shape with the arrival of American sub builder Huntington Ingalls and UK defense shipbuilder Babcock in South Australia. 

HII has set up a new Australian subsidiary, HII Nuclear Australia, and has signed an MOU with the government of the state of South Australia. In a briefing held Monday, HII joined SA Premier Peter Malinauskas to discuss possibilities for defense cooperation with 100 Australian firms. The U.S. Navy desperately needs more options for the nuclear-sub supply chain, which is having a hard time meeting the demand for America's own fleet - even before considering additional orders for the Australian Navy. 

"The AUKUS pact provides an enormous opportunity for Australian defense manufacturers to create highly skilled jobs by supplying Australian submarines made in Australia. But it is also an opportunity to create new opportunities to supply Australian skills and technology into supply chains in the US and UK," said state premier Peter Malinauskas. 

First, though, the partners say that they will need to recruit thousands of Australians to work in defense manufacturing, including highly-skilled professionals in engineering, maritime and nuclear fields. Together with HII, the state government will work to strengthen the local STEM workforce, focusing on critical skills needed for sub manufacturing. It will launch pilot programs with local training providers and colleges to build a pipeline of qualified candidates. University of Adelaide, Curtin University, and University of NSW are joining the effort. 

HII is one of two American shipbuilders capable of constructing nuclear-powered submarines, including the Virginia-class attack sub, which will be Australia's first vessel of the type. Eventually, the Australian government plans to build its own nuclear-powered submarines at Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide. 

"HII has partnership with small, medium and large companies in the United States, supporting the construction of conventionally armed and nuclear powered submarines," said HII VP Eric Chewning in a statement. "We are pleased to initiate the process of replicating these partnerships in Australia."