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Defence shortlists three sites for east coast submarine base


Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced there will be a new base built on the east coast of Australia for the RAN’s future fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. Three sites have been short-listed he said in a speech to the Lowy Institute on 7 March: Brisbane, Newcastle and Port Kembla.

The new base is expected to include wharfs, maintenance facilities for the submarines themselves itself and their reactors, administrative facilities and accommodation. Defence has begun consultation with the state governments of Queensland and New South wales. It’s understood that Defence’s preferred option is Port Kembla, near Wollongong, south of Sydney.

Defence examined 19 proposed basing options for a report for the Federal Cabinet’s National Security Committee. Its criteria for choosing the three options announced by the Prime Minister are:

  • proximity to industrial infrastructure to maintain the submarines efficiently and affordably
  • proximity to large population centres to both attract recruits and retain the substantially larger uniformed submarine workforce needed to crew and support future submarines
  • proximity to Naval training and operational areas, to deep water and to weapons storage and loading facilities
  • strategic depth – keeping the submarines as far as practicable from potential threats while being able to mount and sustain operations.

It’s understood that submarine construction will continue in the ASC yard at Osborne, SA, while Fleet Base West in Fremantle will remain home port for the RAN’s current six Collins-class submarines and in due course for some of the new submarines.

“This is about additional national capacity, not relocating any existing or planned future capacity for Fleet Base West,” the prime minister said. “Fleet Base West will remain home to our current and future submarines, given its strategic importance on the Indian Ocean.”

“The government has now determined that to support our decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, establishing a second submarine base in the east coast would enhance our strategic deterrent capability with significant advantages in operational training, personnel, and industrial terms.”

The Prime Minister said initial works are scheduled for completion in late 2023.

However, a decision on which of the two candidate submarines Australia will acquire could be made very soon, according to Minister for Defence Peter Dutton. He told the ABC’s Insiders program on 6 March that the Government would decide within “the next couple of months” whether Australia would buy a variant of the British Astute-class or US Virginia-class. He also said the first of the new submarines would enter service well before 2040, which pessimistic commentators have said is a likely service entry date, and that a plan exists to provide an enhanced submarine capability in the interim.

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