AUKUS submarines

The evolving landscape of submarine technology is reshaping the dynamics of naval capabilities across the globe. Madrigal has been involved in several naval projects including on the Australian Government-abandoned French submarine project. The AUKUS submarine deal promises to be an exciting time for the development of an Australian submarine and the associated technology and supply chain.

This is a quick summary of the submarine technology being used by the Australian, US and UK navies with a short introduction the designations.  The list represents the nuclear submarine technology within the AUKUS treaty that may come into play in the development of an Australian nuclear attack submarine.

Nuclear submarine designations

Nuclear submarines are designated with abbreviated titles that identify their purpose.

SSBN: Ballistic Missile Submarine

An SSBN, or Submersible Ship, Ballistic, Nuclear-powered, is a nuclear submarine tailored for carrying and launching ballistic missiles. Positioned as a crucial element in a nation’s nuclear triad, SSBNs operate covertly underwater, ready to deliver nuclear warheads over extensive distances. Their primary focus lies in the strategic launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

SSGN: Guided Missile Submarine

In contrast to SSBNs, SSGNs, or Submersible Ship, Guided-missile, Nuclear-powered, are versatile platforms designed for multiple roles with a strong emphasis on launching guided missiles. Unlike SSBNs, SSGNs are not limited to ballistic missile capabilities. They excel in engaging in diverse missions, including land-attack operations, anti-ship activities, special forces insertion, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).

SSN: Attack Submarine

SSNs, or Submersible Ship, Nuclear-powered, are nuclear attack submarines geared towards offensive operations. These versatile submarines are equipped for anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence gathering, and strategic reconnaissance. Unlike SSBNs and SSGNs, SSNs lack ballistic or guided missile launch systems, relying on torpedoes, mines, and land-attack cruise missiles for offensive capabilities.

SNLE: Nuclear-Powered Ballistic Missile Submarine (French terminology)

In the French Navy, SNLEs, or Sous-marin Nucléaire Lanceur d’Engins, are the counterparts to SSBNs. Following the same principles, these nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines contribute to France’s strategic nuclear deterrent. They carry ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, reflecting the French commitment to maintaining a robust nuclear posture.

UK submarines—Vanguard, Astute, and Dreadnought classes

Vanguard-class (current SSBN)

The Vanguard-class submarines serve as the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent force. Armed with Trident 2 D5 nuclear missiles, these submarines carry up to 40 nuclear warheads and can fire missiles with precision over vast distances. Scheduled to be replaced by the 2030s, they have been stalwarts of the UK’s defence strategy.

Trafalgar-class (phasing out SSN)

Four Trafalgar-class attack submarines were designed as “Cold War warriors” but were adapted to the demands of the 21st century. Seven were eventually commissioned but only one is still operational.  Their primary role was to hunt out and destroy enemy nuclear missile submarines as well as surface ships but have been kitted out to perform other roles including covert surveillance.

Astute-class (current SSN)

The Astute-class submarines stand as the epitome of technological advancement in attack submarines for the Royal Navy. Featuring cutting-edge sensors, design, and weaponry, these submarines are versatile and equipped with the Tomahawk IV missile for precise land attacks. The Spearfish torpedo adds anti-submarine capabilities to their arsenal.

Dreadnought-class (future SSBN)

To replace the Vanguard-class, the Dreadnought-class submarines are on the horizon. The specific details of their capabilities and advancements are eagerly anticipated, marking a pivotal shift in the UK’s naval capabilities.

U.S. submarines: Ohio, Columbia, Los Angeles, Seawolf, and Virginia classes

Ohio-class (current SSBN)

The Ohio-class submarines have been the backbone of the U.S. sea-based strategic triad, armed with Trident II D5 SLBMs. Phasing out in favour of the Columbia-class, these submarines have played a crucial role in the U.S. strategic deterrent triad.

Columbia-class (future SSBN)

The Columbia-class submarines are set to replace the Ohio-class, with delivery expected by 2028. With a total cost of $8.4 billion per boat, these submarines signify the next generation of U.S. naval prowess.

Los Angeles-class (phased out SSN)

Originally developed for anti-submarine warfare, the Los Angeles-class submarines have been succeeded by the Virginia-class. With 29 in commission and 2 in reserve, they have laid the foundation for subsequent advancements in U.S. submarine capabilities.

Seawolf-class (specialised SSN)

The Seawolf-class submarines, designed to hunt Soviet SSBNs, brought unprecedented speed and stealth to U.S. naval operations. Although the program was terminated in 1995 after three boats, it showcased advancements in submarine technology.

Virginia-class (current and future SSN)

The Virginia-class submarines, designed as a cost-effective alternative to the Seawolf-class, are gradually taking over the operational role of the Los Angeles-class. With vertical launch tubes and the capability to fire Tomahawk missiles, these submarines represent the future of U.S. attack submarines. The SSN(X) variant, initially dubbed Future Attack Submarine, is expected to be introduced by 2033/2034.

Australian submarines: Collins Class

Collins class (current)

The Royal Australian Navy currently operates six diesel-electric Collins-class submarines, with plans to build at least eight nuclear submarines by 2040. The Collins-class submarines have been operational since 1996, and their transition to nuclear submarines under the AUKUS deal signifies a monumental shift in Australia’s naval capabilities.

AUKUS deal (SSN)

In a landmark move, the Australian government, under the AUKUS submarine deal, cancelled their order for twelve submarines from France. The new plan involves building the submarines locally in Adelaide, with technical assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom. This strategic collaboration aims to build Australia’s submarine fleet which aims to contribute to the AUKUS submarine fleet significantly.