San Diego: Australia will build a new fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines in Adelaide to begin service in the 2040s under a mammoth transformation in national defence that will cost up to $368 billion by 2055.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the new steps alongside US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the US Navy’s Point Loma base in San Diego at 8am on Tuesday morning (AEDT) in the most significant decisions since the three nations struck the AUKUS agreement in September 2021.
The government expects the full cost of the program, including construction and maintenance and service, to range from $268 billion to $368 billion up to 2055.
Albanese likened the investment to the creation of the car industry in Australia after World War II and emphasised the benefits that would flow to industry and innovation from a bigger defence sector.
Biden told Albanese at a separate meeting after the formal announcement that AUKUS was going to be a “game-changer” in regional security.
“I really do think we have an opportunity here,” he said.“I don’t view what we’re doing as a challenge – I view it as a means by which to bring stability to the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean.”
Sunak named China as a source of concern and highlighted the geopolitical reasons for the alliance.
“Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, China’s growing assertiveness, the destabilising behaviour of Iran and North Korea, all threaten to create a world defined by danger, disorder and division,” he said.
The sweeping plan will begin by arranging more visits to Australian ports by United States submarines this year and United Kingdom vessels from 2026, clearing the way for a fixed rotation of naval power in Perth.
Over time, Australia will aim to build a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines to a joint design with the UK called the SSN-AUKUS. The vessels, to be made in Adelaide and start entering service in the 2040s, will consist of eight submarines fitted with vertical launch systems to fire cruise missiles.
The next steps in the AUKUS alliance with the US and UK will cost $9 billion over the next four years, including $2 billion for infrastructure in Adelaide and $1 billion for an expanded naval base in Perth.
Australia will contribute about $3 billion to the efforts in the US and UK to develop the submarine technology, including the design and development of the SSN-AUKUS.
The US will commit $US4.6 billion ($6.9 billion) to its industry to support the Australian project, while the UK will spend £2.2 billion ($4 billion).
With the government setting out a two-decade effort to develop the industrial capacity to build the new fleet in Australia, it will commit to hosting more foreign vessels and buying US-made submarines to fill a looming gap in the nation’s defences.
While US submarines already visit Australia, the visits will increase from this year and Royal Australian Navy personnel will begin serving with the US and UK fleets.
The United States Navy and the Royal Navy will station nuclear-powered submarines in Perth from 2027 in the first step toward filling the capability gap. The rotational forces will include up to four Virginia-class US vessels and one Astute-class UK vessel.
Bridging the capability gap
From the early 2030s, the federal government will buy at least three and up to five Virginia-class submarines from the US, but this will depend on approval from the US Congress.
The result will give Australia an interim fleet with more capability and firepower than any Australian vessels to date, giving the country more capacity to project force throughout the region.
The three or more Virginia-class vessels will be under Australian command with Australian crews and will mark the first time the US has sold these submarines to another country. The US and Australian governments are yet to decide whether Australia will buy new or used Virginia-class vessels.
Later in the 2030s, the UK will take delivery from its shipbuilders of submarines based on a new design that replaces the Astute-class, to be known as the SSN-AUKUS.
Only after this point is Australia forecast to have the shipbuilding and technology capacity to deploy the SSN-AUKUS design with vessels built in Adelaide and due to enter service in the 2040s.
The plan forecasts the delivery of a new SSN-AUKUS every three years and assumes all are built in Adelaide, but the government is not ruling out buying the first of this fleet from the UK, depending on the strategic outlook.
At a photo opportunity with the three world leaders before the speeches, Sky News political editor Kieran Gilbert asked Biden if the US could be relied on to honour the AUKUS deal, to which Biden replied: “We can always be relied upon.”
All the submarines in the new plan will be powered by nuclear propulsion systems made overseas and fitted with nuclear fuel that will last the lifetime of the vessel. It is the first time the US has shared the technology with another country since it agreed to do so with the UK in 1958. None of the submarines in the Royal Australian Navy will have nuclear weapons.
The new plans mark a major new step in the AUKUS pact after the intensely controversial move by then-prime minister Scott Morrison and federal cabinet in September 2021 to end an agreement with France for conventional submarines to be built in Adelaide.
Albanese set out a deadline for the Adelaide shipbuilding project that is in line with Morrison’s assurance that Australia would build its own submarines for delivery during the 2040s, a target that triggered argument over whether it would take too long to replace the Collins-class fleet, which is powered by diesel-electric engines and entered service from 1996.
Australia’s ambassador to the US, Arthur Sinodinos, said he was confident of congressional approval to transfer the Virginia-class vessels to Australia.
“We have very strong support in the Congress,” he told reporters after the leaders’ statements on AUKUS. “What’s important to understand is the support for Australia in this country [the US] is bipartisan. It’s very strong. And we’ve had a lot of engagement with the Congress.”
The RAN has sought a dramatic shift to a more powerful submarine design out of concern at the vulnerability of the Collins-class vessels in an era of more powerful satellite surveillance and the limitations of diesel-electric engines compared to nuclear propulsion systems, which can power vessels for greater distances at faster speeds and with less noise and exposure to detection.
Searching for the next generation of submariners
The need for skilled workers has been identified as a key challenge in the AUKUS project because of the scale of the construction as well as the shortage of submariners on the existing Collins-class submarine fleet before personnel move to the nuclear-powered fleets.
The government expects to need 20,000 jobs over the next 30 years including workers supporting AUKUS in the Australian Defence Force, domestic industry and the Australian public service. This includes 8500 direct jobs in Australia’s building and servicing the submarines, with jobs including scientists, engineers, project managers, operators, technicians, welders, construction workers, electricians, metal fitters and builders.
Albanese has previously named Adelaide and Western Australia as two locations that would win work from the AUKUS project.
The $9 billion cost over the next four years will include $6 billion for Australian industry and workforce, separate from the infrastructure upgrades in Adelaide and Perth.
Overhauling our shipyards and ports
HMAS Stirling in Perth will be upgraded to host more visits by US and UK vessels and become the base for the new fleet, in a plan that assumes the creation of 3000 jobs. The plan for Adelaide requires a mammoth investment in a new shipyard at Osborne to build the SSN-AUKUS, with up to 4000 workers involved at its peak.
In addition, the construction of the new submarines will require 4000 to 5000 workers at the shipyard at the peak of the work two decades from now.
The government estimate for the decade to 2033 ranges from $50 billion to $58 billion and could include some of the cost of buying the first Virginia-class vessels in the next decade.
The cost is at least twice that of the $24 billion for the Attack-class submarines under the contract cancelled with the French.
Over the longer term, the project will cost 0.15 per cent of GDP each year on average, highlighting the vast cost when total defence spending is forecast to surpass 2 per cent of GDP.
Australia has 900 serving submariners but needs at least 200 more as soon as possible so it can deploy personnel to US and British vessels to prepare for the transformation in the fleet. Over time, however, many more would be needed, depending on the number of submarines purchased.
The plan commits Australia to using propulsion systems from the US that are installed in the submarines with a supply of nuclear fuel that lasts the lifetime of the vessels, avoiding the need for a civil nuclear industry.
The government will not disclose the cost per unit for the new submarines.
The program assumes the government will not begin the disposal of any nuclear waste until the 2050s and the government is looking for a future site for this on Australian Defence Force land at a future date.
( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )