Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles welcomes UK Defense Minister Grant Shapps to Canberra on March 21. (Jay Cronan, ADF)

SYDNEY — The plan for Australia to build its own nuclear-powered attack submarines with help from Britain and the United States got a major boost today as the Australian and UK defense ministers announced Canberra would contribute $4.6 billion AUD ($3 billion USD) to the UK to help build and design the boats nuclear reactors and design the subs.

At the same time, the AUKUS partners revealed the first main contractors to build the boats: British firm BAE Systems and Australia’s ASC Pty Ltd.

“This investment, alongside funding from the UK Ministry of Defence, will enable the Rolls-Royce Derby site to double in size, with a further 1,170 highly-skilled jobs created,” UK Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement put out ahead of a visit by him and Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles to the South Australian shipyard where the SSN AUKUS boats will be built.

Australia’s newly announced investment will flow over a decade and will help ensure Australian requirements are part of design half the world away. During the same time, the Australian government will also invest some $8 billion AUD ($5.3 billion USD) in major improvements to HMAS Stirling, the main sub base in Western Australia. It needs to be enlarged to cope with larger Virginia-class sub visits and must be secured to meet US and UK standards for protecting nuclear secrets and equipment.

On top of that, more than $2 billion AUD ($1.3 billion USD) will be spent over the next few years to build a new sub shipyard in Osborne, South Australia.

With that funding, plus the naming BAE and ASC as builders of the new subs, Marles said the AUKUS partners had taken “another major step in the delivery of AUKUS, the announcement of the commercial build arrangements for SSN-AUKUS at the Osborne naval shipyard in Adelaide demonstrates that this is moving apace.”

In addition to building the boats, ASC will maintain the SSN AUKUS fleet, as well as the three to five Virginia-class attack subs that Australia is expected to buy from the US.

Australia will buy the Virginia class in the early 2030s before jointly building and operating SSN AUKUS with Britain about 10 years later.

Still, BAE Systems CEO Charles Woodburn said in a statement that work on SSN AUKUS has begun in the UK. “We’re already making good progress on the design and development of the next generation submarine in the UK where we have more than 1,000 people working on the SSN-AUKUS program and major infrastructure investment underway,” he said.

As always with politically sensitive defense projects, the jobs they generate are a major selling point, as the president of Rolls Royce Submarines noted. “These jobs are part of the 7,000 additional British jobs that the UK’s and Australia’s AUKUS submarine program will generate through their life,” he said. “At the peak, there will be over 21,000 people working on the SSN-AUKUS programs in the UK – concentrated in Barrow-in-Furness and Derby.”

In a trilateral statement, the AUKUS partners said that the “formation of these strategic partnerships with industry is a significant milestone in the AUKUS endeavor. It is a demonstration of our trilateral industry supporting the Optimal Pathway becoming a reality and will underpin Australia’s role as a capable security partner and responsible steward of a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability for decades to come.”