GOOSE CREEK, S.C. – Three Royal Australian Navy (RAN) officers graduated from the United States Navy’s Nuclear Power School (NPS) today, marking a significant step in Australia’s goal to operate conventionally armed, nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs).
Lt. Cmdr. James Heydon, Lt. Cmdr. Adam Klyne, and Lt. William Hall started NPS in November 2022, becoming the first cadre of RAN personnel to go through one of the Department of Defense’s most rigorous and demanding training programs.
“I knew coming in that this was going to be a challenge, and I was not disappointed,” said Heydon. “That said, being one of the first Australians to graduate from NPS means a lot to me personally and for Australia as we work to build the stewardship needed to safely operate a nuclear reactor. With that as our motivation, my colleagues and I put our heads down and cracked on.”
NPS trains officers and enlisted personnel in the science and engineering principles that are fundamental to the design, operation, and maintenance of naval nuclear propulsion plants.
“What these graduates learn at NPS prepares them for the next step in becoming a nuclear-qualified officer,” said Adm. James Caldwell Jr., Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. “From here, they will continue their academic and practical studies so that when they go to their aircraft carrier or, in the case of our RAN officers, submarines, they are ready to safely and competently operate the power plant.”
The three RAN officers will next report to Nuclear Prototype Training Unit (NPTU) Charleston to complete Engineering Officer of the Watch training, which will conclude in late 2023 or early 2024. Following NPTU, the officers will go through Submarine Officer Basic Course for approximately 2.5 months in Groton, Connecticut and then be assigned to a Virginia-class SSN to continue their training and qualifications.
“These officers will form the nucleus of the RAN’s nuclear-qualified submariners and, through them, Australia will develop its ability to operate, maintain, and build their own conventionally armed nuclear powered submarines when it receives its first Virginia-class submarine from in the U.S. in the early 2030s,” shared Capt. Lincoln Reifsteck the AUKUS Integration and Acquisition Program Manager.
“Today marks a significant step forward in the Royal Australian Navy’s ability to build its sovereign SSN capability,” said Vice Adm. Jonathan Mead, the Australia Submarine Agency’s Director General. “I could not be more proud of these three officers. Today, we have sharpened the tip of our undersea warfighting spear, and we are closer to having a safer and more secure Indo-Pacific region.”
There are six RAN officers enrolled in NPS with more planned to join in the near future. “NPS has the capacity to train RAN officers and enlisted personnel. In doing so, we are able to impart the stewardship and knowledge that has allowed the United States to safely operate nuclear-powered ships for nearly 70 years and steam more than 171 million miles,” said Caldwell.
Initially announced in September 2021, the AUKUS trilateral agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States is a strategic endeavor aimed at strengthening the security and defense capabilities of the three nations that also promotes stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region. Australia will acquire conventionally armed SSNs for the Royal Australian Navy under Pillar I of AUKUS via the Optimal Pathway announced by the heads of the three partner nations on March 13, 2023.
The Optimal Pathway for Australia’s acquisition of nuclear powered submarines begins this year with an increase in the number of U.S. SSNs visiting HMAS Stirling in Western Australia. As early as 2027, U.S. and U.K. SSNs will begin extended rotations to Australia to accelerate the development of Australia’s workforce, infrastructure, and regulatory system as part of the Submarine Rotational Force – West (SRF-W). With congressional approval, the United States intends to sell three Virginia-class SSNs to Australia starting in the early 2030s with the potential to sell up to two additional hulls if needed. These efforts will maintain Australia’s submarine capacity as it builds its fleet of SSN-AUKUS, a trilaterally developed nuclear powered submarines based on the U.K.’s next generation design. The Royal Australian Navy intends to take delivery of the first SSN AUKUS in the late 2030s followed by the first Australian-built SSN AUKUS in the early 2040s.