The first few cohorts of Australian submariners are due to graduate from the US Navy's Nuclear Power School, aka "Nuke School," next week. The graduates are important in Australia's plans to field a fleet of nuclear-powered, conventionally-armed submarines under the trilateral Australia-United Kingdom-United States defense cooperation agreement, or AUKUS.
At an open event on Monday, Admiral Michael Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), the US. Navy's top uniformed officer, announced this news: "We graduate our first group of Australian Submariners from our Nuclear Power School in Charleston in just over a week's time". "So we're very proud of that," he added.
"They are all above the mean," Dr. Kurt Campbell said of the Australians about to graduate. "These are guys that are excelling. And we're gonna double down on this. And that commitment is powerful and impressive," he added.
Gilday or Campbell did not specify the exact number and specialization of Australian submariners graduating. However, The Nuclear Power School offers training for various tasks related to operating and maintaining nuclear reactors on ships and submarines. The Australians would likely have gained practical experience using relevant equipment during their training. Training would also likely have been conducted on two former Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarines transformed into stationary classrooms.
Although it will take some time before the Royal Australian Navy submariners can operate nuclear-powered submarines, it's crucial to have a training program to produce qualified nuke sailors as part of the overall plan.
"It's a phased approach that's been very transparent in terms of our beginning to conduct more port visits with the Australians and a phased approach to then begin forward deploying our submarines, perhaps up to four, out of [the] HMAS Stirling [naval base], near Perth," Gilday explained. The plan is then eventually "to co-crew those [U.S.] submarines with Australians in a very deliberate manner and then, finally, get us to a point where Australia… can then take custody of the sale of US submarines and then eventually produce their own," he added.
Currently, Australia plans to acquire the first three nuclear-powered submarines from the United States, which are expected to be of the Virginia-class. This includes two submarines directly from the US Navy, and the Royal Australian Navy aims to have them operational by 2032.
Australia has plans to acquire five new-production nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs), which will be built in the country. The submarines, known as SSN-AUKUS, are expected to be completed by approximately 2050. Additionally, there is a possibility that Australia may receive up to five Virginias, depending on the progress of the SSN-AUKUS submarine.
So, while the delivery of Australian submarines is years away, the graduation of Australian submariners from the US Navy's Nuclear Power School is a significant milestone toward achieving this objective.