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New base announced for future nuclear-powered submarines

Three locations have been shortlisted as potential sites for a new naval base to be built to support Australia’s next-generation nuclear-powered submarine fleet.

Three locations have been shortlisted as potential sites for a new naval base to be built to support Australia’s next-generation nuclear-powered submarine fleet.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced plans to develop a new naval base on Australia's east coast to support the operation of the Royal Australian Navy’s future nuclear-powered submarines promised under the AUKUS agreement.

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The new base is expected to include specialised wharfs; maintenance facilities; administrative and logistics support; personal amenities; and suitable accommodation for submarine crews and support staff, including visitors. 

Brisbane, Newcastle and Port Kembla have been shortlisted among 19 locations reviewed by the government. 

The Commonwealth government is reportedly favouring development in Wollongong’s Port Kembla, as outlined in a submission to the cabinet's National Security Committee.  

However, according to the PM, all three locations meet many of the criteria needed to support Australia’s strategic objectives, including:

  • close proximity to sufficient industrial infrastructure that could support the complex demands of maintaining and preparing high-tech submarines in an efficient and affordable manner;
  • close proximity to large population centres to attract recruits and retain the substantially larger uniformed submarine workforce needed to crew and support future submarines;
  • reasonably approximate to primary maritime training and operational areas to deep water and to weapons storage and loading facilities; and  
  • provide strategic depths as far as possible for potential threats and support the mounting and sustaining of operations.

Defence has commenced consultations with the NSW and Queensland governments, as well as relevant local authorities. 

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“The decision to establish an east coast submarine base has been many years in the making, as part of the transition from Collins,” Prime Minister Morrison said during an address to the Lowy Institute.

“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.”

Prime Minister Morrison stressed that the new eastern base would complement existing naval infrastructure, including Perth's HMAS Stirling (Fleet Base West), which currently supports the Collins Class submarine fleet.

"This is about additional national capacity, not relocating any existing or planned future capacity for Fleet Base West," the PM added.  

"Fleet Base West will remain home to our current and future submarines, given its strategic importance on the Indian Ocean."

The new facility is set to be the first major defence base built in Australia since the Robertson Barracks in Darwin in the 1990s.

Initial works are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2023, ahead of a final decision on the nuclear-powered submarine options — the United States’ Virginia Class or the United Kingdom’s Astute Class vessels.  

The Commonwealth government’s Nuclear-Powered Submarine Task Force is currently consulting with stakeholders in the US and UK.

The group’s considerations are expected to include requirements for design, construction, maintenance, infrastructure, industry capacity, nuclear safety, environmental protection, crewing and training.

The Task Force will also advise on building timeframes, costs and supply needs.

Last November, Minister for Defence Peter Dutton and representatives from the UK and the US signed the Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement — a legally-binding arrangement granting Australia access to advanced nuclear technology under the AUKUS deal.

The agreement establishes a framework for the disclosure and use of information related to naval nuclear propulsion, supporting the local development of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy.

Civilian and military personnel in Australia would be provided with critical training and education from US and UK counterparts, ensuring the submarines are developed safely and effectively.

The agreement also aims to develop the skills necessary to establish a best practice regulatory and safety regime, ensuring Australia complies with its international obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. 

[Related: AUKUS partners sign tech-sharing agreement]

Charbel Kadib

Charbel Kadib

News Editor – Defence and Security, Momentum Media

Prior to joining the defence and aerospace team in 2020, Charbel was news editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business, where he covered developments in the banking and financial services sector for three years. Charbel has a keen interest in geopolitics and international relations, graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a double major in politics and journalism. Charbel has also completed internships with The Australian Department of Communications and the Arts and public relations agency Fifty Acres.

New base announced for future nuclear-powered submarines
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