The U.S. Navy is embarking on a unique journey to forge closer ties with Australia and the United Kingdom within the framework of the AUKUS partnership. Despite pending congressional measures required for the trilateral submarine-building arrangement, the U.S. Navy is moving forward with this ambitious plan.
AUKUS, at its core, involves the sale of American submarines to Australia and the joint development of a cutting-edge AUKUS-class submarine design. However, as U.S. Navy Under Secretary Erik Raven emphasized to lawmakers, this agreement transcends mere acquisition programs. It aims to revolutionize and integrate three disparate industrial bases located in different corners of the world, all in the pursuit of enhancing national security efforts. Remarkably, these efforts are already underway.
One key aspect of this cooperation is the close collaboration between the U.S. Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program and its British counterpart, the Dreadnought program. Particularly, the bilateral partnership revolves around the production of essential metal components for their shared missile tubes. Notably, the casting sector in the U.S. submarine-industrial base has been identified as a critical area that needs improvement. The U.S. Navy is investing substantial resources into enhancing the capabilities of vendors, expanding their workforces and facilities, and exploring innovative technologies like additive manufacturing to supplement traditional manufacturing processes.
Rear Adm. Scott Pappano, the program executive officer for strategic submarines, has been actively exploring ways to leverage the U.K.’s casting sector and its suppliers. In a similar vein, Australian 3D-printing company AML3D is poised to contribute to research and development efforts at the Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence in Danville, Virginia. Their unique 3D printing technique could provide valuable insights into directed-energy deposition printing methods and the nickel aluminum bronze alloy sought after for printing submarine parts.
Moreover, Australian students have undergone training at the Accelerated Training in Defense Manufacturing schoolhouse, located in close proximity to the center of excellence. This initiative aims to create a train-the-trainer program, where these students will return to Australia and establish an accelerated training center, bolstering the local submarine workforce to support AUKUS objectives.
U.S. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, who attended a summit related to these endeavors, emphasized the critical nature of these efforts for the service. He underscored that AUKUS is of immense importance to U.S. national security interests in the coming decades. Del Toro expressed confidence in the submarine-industrial base’s readiness for a 40-year-long demanding workload but stressed the need to strengthen the workforce. Collaboration with Australia and the U.K. is deemed crucial in achieving this goal.
Del Toro elaborated on the potential of bringing skilled Australian workers to the United States, enabling their participation in U.S. companies, and their eventual return to Australia to contribute to the maintenance, repair, and construction of future SSN-AUKUS ships. This symbiotic arrangement reflects a win-win situation for the allied nations working hand in hand to realize this vision.
During a recent congressional hearing, it was revealed that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is establishing a presence in Australia to manage security and counterintelligence concerns related to the submarine-sharing agreement. Additionally, a workforce cross-training program, initially focused on the Columbia and Dreadnought classes, will be expanded to include attack submarines. This initiative involves the exchange of workers between the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard in Connecticut and BAE Systems’ Barrow yard in England, ensuring uniform standards in activities such as welding and nondestructive testing.
The U.S. Defense and State departments have forwarded four key legislative proposals to Capitol Hill, seeking approval for the transfer of Virginia-class submarines to Australia, funding to strengthen and expand the submarine-industrial base, enabling Australian workers to train at American facilities, and modifying technology transfer regulations to facilitate collaboration among the three allies. The Navy aims to bring Australian trainees to American facilities for training in early 2024.
Erik Raven stressed that it is imperative for these efforts to materialize by late 2024 or early 2025 to ensure that Australia’s submarine-industrial base in Stirling is fully prepared to support American submarines by 2027. This timeline underscores the urgency and importance of the AUKUS partnership in advancing shared security goals.
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