Work on UK N-sub WA deployment

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As part of AUKUS, the United Kingdom and the United States are establishing a rotational presence of one UK Astute class submarine and up to four U.S. Virginia class submarines at HMAS Stirling, located near Perth in Western Australia, by 2027, UK Defence Journal reports.

Just over a year ago, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States announced the Optimal Pathway to deliver conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) to Australia – the first major initiative of the new AUKUS alliance.

This undertaking, named ‘Submarine Rotational Force-West’ (SRF-West), will adhere to Australia’s longstanding policy of no foreign bases on its territory.

Additionally, this will enable the three nations to pool resources while Australia endeavours to build the necessary operational capabilities and expertise to oversee and run its fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, you can read more about that here.

This week, an update was published by the Ministry of Defence on the enabling work for this effort.

“Building on the success of earlier SSN visits to Australia since the Optimal Pathway announcement, AUKUS partners welcomed a visit by USS Annapolis to HMAS Stirling in March 2024. This latest visit is part of a trilateral commitment to more frequent SSN visits to HMAS Stirling under the Optimal Pathway. This, and future such visits from UK and U.S. SSNs, will contribute to building Australia’s capacity to support a rotational presence of UK and U.S. SSNs under Submarine Rotational Force-West (SRF-West) from as early as 2027, and Australia’s future sovereign SSN capability.

The most significant maintenance activity to be conducted on an SSN in Australia, to date, is scheduled to occur in the second half of 2024. The maintenance activity, supported by a Submarine Tender, will be critical to building Australia’s ability to safely and securely sustain U.S. SSNs in preparation for the establishment of SRF-West. In anticipation of this forthcoming activity, 37 Royal Australian Navy sailors reported to the USS Emory S. Land in Guam in late January 2024, to begin training and to gain the necessary skills and qualifications. Australian industry personnel will also be involved in supporting this activity to continue to grow the submarine sustainment workforce and supply chain. UK Royal Navy officers will observe the activity to enable integration of UK maintenance requirements for future UK SSN port visits and future UK rotational presence as part of SRF-West. This will be the first time that Australian personnel will actively participate in the maintenance of a U.S. SSN in Australia, enabled by the provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024.

Important steps have been taken towards delivering a sovereign conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine training capability for Australia. In December 2023, the United States and Australia finalised a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) case to procure submarine training devices to support the establishment of SRF-West. As part of the FMS case, the first contracts were awarded this month by the United States for submarine training simulators. These will be used to train Royal Australian Navy personnel on the Virginia class platform in advance of Australia operating its own sovereign Virginia class SSNs, and supporting visiting and rotational U.S. Virginia class SSNs through SRF-West. The FMS case will also enable the training of Australian Defence and industry personnel in the United States. In March 2024, a cohort of 20 Australian industry personnel completed a successful three-month placement at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility.”

Not entirely new

HMS Astute, a nuclear submarine then deployed with HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Carrier Strike Group, visited Perth back in 2021.

UK High Commissioner, Vicki Treadell, said at the time:

“This visit, and the warm welcome our Royal Navy has received exemplifies our commitment to the region, and the spirit of mateship that underpins the bonds between our two great nations.”

The Astute class are the largest, most advanced and most powerful attack submarines ever operated by the Royal Navy, combining world-leading sensors, design and weaponry in a versatile vessel. The class have provision for up to 38 weapons in six 21-inch torpedo tubes. The submarines can use Tomahawk Block IV land-attack missiles with a range of 1,000 miles and Spearfish heavyweight torpedoes.

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