Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has confirmed that Australia will take delivery of three Virginia-class submarines from "early next decade" with options for up to two more, pending approval from US Congress.
It is believed that these will be existing boats.
Additionally, SSN Aukus will be built and deployed by both Australia and the UK. The United Kingdom intends to deliver its first SSN Aukus domestically in the late 2030s. Australia intends to deliver the first SSN Aukus built in Australia to the Royal Australian Navy in the early 2040s.
The British designed submarine “will incorporate US technology such as propulsion plant systems and components, a common vertical launch system and weapons”, an Australian government fact sheet said. “The Aukus partners will also develop a joint combat system as an expansion of the US-Australia combat system.”
Australia will fund the expansion of US submarine building capacity.
Rotational deployments of US and UK submarines to Australia from 2027 of up to 4 Virginia-class and 1 Astute-class submarine at a time. The Australian government argues this rotational presence “will comply fully with Australia’s longstanding position of no foreign bases on its territory” because these submarines will be rotated through the location and will not be permanently based in Australia.
Price tag is pegged at AUD $368bn over three decades, which is about USD $245bn.
$245 bn over 30 years is $8,15bn per year on average. It's important to remember that the cost level changes over time it's highest at the start because of procurement, drops approaching the middle of lifecycle and then grows until the end where the cost is highest, unless the system has a particularly high implementation cost.
In this case nuclear subs will require investment in infrastructure to build and maintain as well as operate nuclear submarines. That's expensive when you start from scratch in a country that doesn't have nuclear power infrastructure which means lacking the technological base to train and maintain your workforce. Human and associated cost will be the biggest factor driving the cost above conventional program cost.
Why Australia which is the world's third largest uranium producer and a country where five largest cities house 63% of population doesn't have nuclear power is a separate problem.
UK will finish the last Astute in 2026. The first was commissioned in 2010 and the PWR2 has a life of 25 years meaning that late 2030s for first RN AUKUS-SSN happens in the natural replacement cycle. For RAN to get the first in early 2040s means that production would have to start in 2030. HMS Astute was built over a decade in an established facility with experience and only some was caused due to funding. Australia has no experience and the facility will have to be up and running in seven years starting from scratch.
Collins subs were commissioned in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2001 and 2003 which given the standard 35 year lifecycle suggests retirement at 2031, 2033, 2034, 2036, 2036 and 2038 although they can be delayed somewhat if necessary.
First Virginias will be retired - assuming 35 year lifecycle - in: (Block I) 2039, 2041, 2042, 2043, (Block II) 2043, 2045, 2045, 2046, 2047, 2048. The plan calls for three plus two optional. Refueling will add cost if AUKUS-SSN is delivered after 2045 due to delays, funding problems etc.
The minimum number of SSNs that make sense operationally is 5 allowing to deploy 2 on regular if intermittent basis. 6 (French) is the number that allows for repairs and emergencies. 7 (British) is the number that allows to deploy 3 on similar regular/intermittent basis. 3 Virginias will be a training fleet corresponding with USN squadron operations.
If AUKUS-SSN is delivered say 2042, 2044, 2046 which is optimistic it will require either Block II Virginias or risk additional cost of refueling Block I but that may be accounted for in the budget if the planned fleet is 5-6 SSNs in operation by 2040.
Current defense budget is $31bn (AUD47bn) at 2% GDP. $8bn is a lot but I'm assuming that this figure is given in current AUD while it either refers to total cost in 2070 (retirement of AUKUS-SSN) or 2060 (arbitrary data for development, introduction and first years of operation but before retirement) then inflation needs to be assumed as well. If we base this on historical inflation of USD which doubled value over 30 years it means 2023AUD value of 4bn per year. If the assumed inflation is higher it's less.
At $8bn it's 26% of budget. Prohibitive without major expansion.
At $4bn it's 13% of budget. Doable but ridiculously expensive and for no real benefit other than developing infrastructure for Virginias in AUS.
Also it's rather obvious that while PM says the plan "will comply fully with Australia’s longstanding position of no foreign bases on its territory" it will be changed to a foreign base in all but name on its territory pretty quickly. This is why Virginias are leased/purchased first because this will allow the program to fund Virginia/USN compatible infrastructure.
UK doesn't matter because at best
it's a single SSN on rotation as UK won't be able to deliver more than that unless they relinquish the Atlantic.
So UK is just the fig leaf to facilitate building of US nuclar bases in Australia to force Australia into the conflict on Washington's terms - including nuclear factor - as a de-facto occupied territory. Soviety type of occupation but with better propaganda and management to hide it. Very much like it's been done with some European countries, including mine.
And that's why French deal had to be cancelled because it has never been about nuclear subs for Australia but about institutional capture of the country.
At this point B-21 for Australia may be very likely in near future because it too will be about bases. Soon the argument of "why do we need self-defense capabilities if we can't defend without the US" will be raised to fund those programs. And then probably a hike in military spending if Coalition wins the next election.