The federal government has announced what Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described as the biggest defence capability spend in the nation’s history.
The federal government will invest up to $368 billion on the AUKUS nuclear powered submarine program, which will see a fleet of eight vessels built in Australia over the next 30 years.
“The scale, complexity and economic significance of this investment is akin to the creation of the Australian automotive industry in the post-war period,” Mr Albanese in an address from San Diego on Tuesday alongside US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Pending congressional approval, Australia will procure three US Virginia Class nuclear powered submarines to plug a potential capability gap following the retirement of the Collins class submarines while the new vessels are being built. The US subs will be delivered early next decade at a reported cost of $50-$58 billion, with an option to buy two more.
Meanwhile Australia will partner with the UK to build a brand new, next-generation nuclear submarine, the SSN-AUKUS, based on a British design and incorporating Australian, UK and US technology.
The SSN-AUKUS fleet will be commanded by the RAN and maintained in Australian shipyards, Mr Albanese said.
The first locally made SSN-AUKUS is due to be delivered to the RAN in the early 2040s, with five vessels to be delivered by the mid 2050s.
Construction will begin in South Australia within the next ten years and SA and WA will develop training programs to create the skills needed, including the establishment of a skills academy in SA.
Upgrade for SA site
South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas told ABC Radio he expected work to begin on submarine construction at the Osborne shipbuilding site SA in the second half of the decade.
The federal government has allocated $2 billion in the next four years for an infrastructure upgrade at Osborne, Mr Malinauskas said.
“But we expect that the submarine production will start this decade here in South Australia with a view of the first submarine rolling off the production line sometime around 2040,” he said.
Around $8 billion will be spent to upgrade the naval base HMAS Stirling in Western Australia south of Perth, including wharf upgrades, warehousing and sustainment facilities.
From as early as 2027, the UK and the US plan to establish a rotational presence of one UK Astute class submarine and up to four Virginia class submarines in WA, in an initiative known as ‘Submarine Rotational Force-West’ (SRF-West), the White House says.
“It will put our nations shoulder to shoulder as Australia builds the necessary operational capabilities and skills to steward and operate its own fleet of nuclear-powered submarines,” a White House statement said.
No decision has been made on a future east coast submarine base, although Port Kembla is understood to be the most likely location.
The latest details of the ambitious project were revealed after Australia, the US and the UK announced their new AUKUS security partnership in September 2021.
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