Australian submariners to serve on UK’s Astute-class nuclear vessels for first time

Royal Australian Navy engineers will work with Navy as part of the trilateral arrangemnent between the UK, US and Australia
Royal Australian Navy engineers will work with Navy as part of the trilateral arrangemnent between the UK, US and Australia - Royal Navy/Edward Jones

Australian sailors will serve on the Royal Navy’s latest attack submarines for the first time, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced.

After nine months of intensive training at HMS Sultan – a military training facility –  in Gosport, Hampshire, three newly qualified Australian nuclear engineers will work alongside their Royal Navy counterparts in British submarines.

The programme, part of the Aukus trilateral defence arrangement alongside the US, will see Britain and Australia develop new nuclear-powered attack submarines in the next decade.

The three countries have agreed to share sensitive military intelligence and jointly develop next-generation technology to counter China’s increased assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.

A Lt-Cdr James, Lieut Isabella and Lieut Steve (all surnames withheld for security reasons) will now go on to serve in Astute-class submarines alongside Royal Navy crews, adding practical experience to all they have learned on the nuclear operator course.

The nine-month course included training on nuclear physics, metallurgy, advanced mathematics, thermodynamics and nuclear safety management.

Vice-Adml Mark Hammond, the chief of the Royal Australian Navy, praised the “exceptional dedication” of the trailblazing trio of officers for their success – and the Royal Navy for the “world-class training” it has provided.

Royal Navy's latest Astute class submarine Agamemnon in Barrow-in-Furness
Royal Navy's latest Astute class submarine Agamemnon in Barrow-in-Furness - BAE Systems, / SWNS

“This demonstrates the exceptional skillset and knowledge of our people undertaking this unique training from the Royal Navy – a long-standing partner and friend to the Royal Australian Navy,” Vice-Adml Hammond said.

“The graduation marks another significant step forward for the Royal Australian Navy’s ability to operate, maintain and support Australia’s future nuclear-powered submarine capability.”

Lt-Cdr James, 33, will be assigned to the Royal Navy’s newest hunter-killer submarine, HMS Agamemnon, nearing completion in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.

“The experience of bringing her out of construction, going through trials and training will be hugely important down the line for our programme,” he said.

Lieut Steve, 29, said: “I was a weapons engineer, but nuclear engineering is a completely different ball park.

“It’s been very challenging, but also fascinating and much more interesting than conventional engineering.

“I think what’s been most surprising has been the parallels with the Brits – you can just jump in there, get started. Yes, we take the mickey and there’s banter, but at the end of the day we’re all best mates.”

Trilateral defence

Announced in September 2021, Aukus is a trilateral defence and security agreement between the UK, the US and Australia.

Alongside new attack submarines Aukus will also develop future military technology programmes, including in the areas of artificial intelligence, hypersonic missiles and electronic warfare.

Although Australian submariners have served on British nuclear-powered boats in the past, this will be the first time they have been part of a Royal Navy crew on the Sub-Surface Nuclear (SSN) Astute class.

In March, it was announced that BAE Systems had won the multi-billion contract to build the Aukus submarines, in what was seen as a major boost for British industry.

Under the deal, Australia will invest £2.4bn in the UK’s submarine industrial base, including in BAE’s design work and Rolls-Royce’s nuclear reactor production facility in Derby.

Australia will gradually replace its existing fleet of diesel-powered Collins-class subs through the Aukus deal, first with Virginia-class boats bought from the US in the early 2030s and then with the SSN-Aukus class.