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The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed contracts with BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Babcock worth GBP 4 Bn (EUR 4.62 Bn) on 1 October 2023 for the next phase of the UK’s next-generation nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) programme.

The contracts for the Detailed Design and Long Leads (D2L2) Phase of the programme represent a significant milestone for both the UK and the trilateral AUKUS programme as a whole in the lead-up to the building of the future class of SSNs known as the SSN-AUKUS class.

The contracts will progress the programme through the design, prototyping and purchase of main long-lead components for the first UK submarines, allowing construction to commence in the coming years and ensure the stability and resilience of the UK’s domestic supply chain, the UK MoD noted in a 1 October press release.

“Building on more than 60 years of British expertise in designing, building and operating nuclear-powered submarines, the D2L2 contracts will support thousands of highly skilled jobs in the UK – a clear demonstration of how the AUKUS programme supports the prime minister’s priority to grow the economy,” the UK MoD stated.

“Alongside the design development and long-lead procurement, infrastructure at the submarine shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness and the nuclear reactor manufacturing site in Raynesway, Derby, will be developed and expanded where needed to meet the requirement of the future submarine build programme,” the MoD added.

The aim of the SSN-AUKUS programme is to deliver the first UK submarines into service in the late 2030s to replace the current Astute-class SSNs, with the first submarines for Australia following in the early 2040s.

The SSN-AUKUS submarines “will be the largest, most advanced and most powerful attack submarines ever operated by the Royal Navy” the UK MoD has stated. (Image: BAE Systems)

“These will be the largest, most advanced and most powerful attack submarines ever operated by the Royal Navy, combining world-leading sensors, design and weaponry in one vessel,” the MoD stated.

Construction of the UK’s submarines will take place principally in Barrow-in-Furness, while Australia will work over the next decade to build up its submarine industrial base in order to build its submarines in Australia, with Rolls-Royce supplying the nuclear reactors for all UK and Australian submarines.

The 1 October D2L2 contract announcement follows the AUKUS announcement in March by the leaders of Australia, the UK and the United States that outlined the next-generation submarine-building programme.

BAE Systems announced on 1 October that the funding will cover development work to 2028, enabling the company to move into the detailed design phase of the programme and begin to procure long-lead items. Manufacture of the SSNs will start towards the end of the decade.

“This multi-billion-pound investment in the AUKUS submarine programme will help deliver the long-term hunter-killer submarine capabilities the UK needs to maintain our strategic advantage and secure our leading place in a contested global order,” UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps was quoted as saying in a BAE Systems press release. “I’m committed to backing our defence industry, because it’s only with the mission-critical support of businesses like BAE Systems that the UK can develop the advanced equipment our armed forces need to defend the British people in a more dangerous world.”

Regarding the current Royal Navy fleet, BAE Systems has already delivered five of seven Astute-class SSNs to the navy, with the remaining two boats at advanced stages of construction. The company is also designing and building the UK’s next-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), the Dreadnought class, with work underway on three of the four new boats.