The U.S., U.K. and Australia Are Partnering in a Deal to Develop Nuclear-Powered Submarines. Steelworkers Build Them.   

By Cathalijne Adams
Mar 14 2023 |
“Our unprecedented trilateral cooperation, I believe, is testament to the strength of the longstanding ties that unite us and to our shared commitment of ensuring the Indo-Pacific remains free and open, prosperous and secure, defined by opportunity for all — a shared commitment to create a future rooted in our common values,” President Biden said Monday. Photo courtesy of The White House’s YouTube

USW Local 8888 constructs nuclear submarines in Newport News, Va., one of the nation’s two shipyards with the capability.

Beginning in the early 2030s, pending approval from Congress, the United States will sell Australia three Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) with the possibility of selling an additional two if needed, President Biden formally announced Monday. The deal with the United Kingdom and Australia — under the auspices of the trilateral security pact AUKUS — not only serves to enhance defense in the increasingly contentious Asia-Pacific region but also to boost trilateral industrial cooperation with investments that will support thousands of high-skilled jobs in the U.S.

“In forging this new partnership, we’re showing again how democracies can deliver our own security and prosperity — and not just for us but for the entire world,” Biden said, standing before the U.S.S. Missouri, a nuclear-powered submarine stationed at Point Loma Naval Base in San Diego, Calif.

All three nations stand to see significant improvement to their infrastructure and industrial capacity. In the United States, the government is investing $2.4 billion in the domestic submarine industrial base over fiscal years 2023-2027 to increase construction capacity. The U.S. has also invested $2.2 billion in its submarine maintenance budget, with additional funds to accelerate submarine production under consideration.

“Each of our nations is making concrete commitments to one another. We’re backing it up with significant investments to strengthen the industrial bases in each of our countries in order to build and support these boats,” Biden said. “By the way, this partnership is going to mean an awful lot for good-paying jobs for all workers in our countries, including a lot of union jobs.”

These investments will be critical. As POLITICO reported:

“Even getting the Virginia-class submarines to Australia will be a challenge since the two companies that make them, General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries, are unable to meet the U.S. Navy’s goal of producing two submarines a year.

“‘The U.S. submarine industrial base is not where it should be,’ said a senior administration official, who was granted anonymity to discuss plans with reporters ahead of the announcement. ‘The Department of Defense is putting forward significant additional resources to lift the submarine-industrial base. They made an initial request to Congress, which was approved last year, and there’ll be additional funds in this year’s budget.'”

United Steelworker Local 8888, which represents 9,700 workers, will almost certainly play an integral role in the fulfillment of this deal. Its men and women — hundreds of whom are veterans — build nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers for the Navy at one of the nation’s two SSN shipyards.

“It’s up to us to provide the Navy with what it needs to keep us safe,” said Erica M. Brinson, who has worked at the shipyard in Newport News, Va., for 12 years. “They’re fighting for us.”

Huntington Ingalls Industries, which owns and operates the Newport News shipyard, stated that it’s ready to put it to use in a press release issued in response to Biden’s AUKUS announcement.

“As more details become available, HII is prepared to leverage our longstanding expertise in nuclear shipbuilding and defense technologies, and our presence in Canberra, Australia, in support of AUKUS,” the defense company said.

Ultimately, per the deal announced Monday, the U.K. and Australia will manufacture next-generation SSNs designed with cutting-edge technology from all three nations.