Home Asia Pacific After AUKUS deal, Australia investing A$10B in new nuclear submarine base

After AUKUS deal, Australia investing A$10B in new nuclear submarine base

New Australian nuclear submarine base
Illustration: Collins-class submarine HMAS Farncomb arrives alongside Diamantina Pier at Fleet Base West, Western Australia. Photo: Royal Australian Navy

The Australian defense ministry has announced an investment of more than A$10 billion in a new submarine base that will be capable of supporting new nuclear-powered submarines that will be bought for the Royal Australian Navy.

As announced, the new submarine base will be built on the east coast of Australia, providing deployment opportunities in both the Indian and Pacific oceans.

The new base will add capacity and capability to Fleet Base West in Western Australia, home of the Navy’s Collins-class submarines, which will also receive significant funding to support Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines and enable regular visits from the United States and United Kingdom’s nuclear-powered submarines.

The announcement follows the signing of an agreement with the United States and the United Kingdom, dubbed AUKUS, which will see the US and UK share nuclear propulsion technology with Australia.

To remind, Australia canceled its contract with France for the delivery of 12 conventionally-powered attack submarines in September 2021, opting instead for its first ever purchase of nuclear-powered submarines.

The Australian defense department estimates that more than $10 billion will be needed for facility and infrastructure requirements to transition from Collins to the future nuclear-powered submarines, including the new east coast submarine base.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the decision to establish an east coast submarine base has been underway for many years and would enhance Australia’s strategic deterrent capability in the Pacific Ocean.

“Australia faces a difficult and dangerous security environment and we must continue to invest in growing the capability of our ADF to ensure we keep Australians safe,” the Prime Minister said.

“Under our AUKUS partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom we will have access to the best technology in the world to support our efforts to deter threats against our national interest in the Indo-Pacific.

“This new 20-year investment is vital for our strategic capabilities, but it will also provide long-term economic opportunities at both our submarine bases on the east coast and on the west coast.

“Our investments will also flow into our operations in Western Australia, with significant funding flowing to upgrade facilities there for our future submarines and to support our allies in the United States and United Kingdom.

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

The defense ministry said it reviewed 19 potential sites before identifying three preferred locations on the east coast, including Brisbane, Newcastle, and Port Kembla.

The locations were selected on submarine basing criteria, which included access to exercise operating areas, proximity to industrial infrastructure, and significant population centers to support personnel and recruitment.

Minister for Defence Peter Dutton said Australia had not constructed a major new base since Robertson Barracks in the 1990s, and an extensive process would now begin.

“We took the important decision in 2021 to pursue nuclear-powered submarines with the support of our American and British partners, in response to the changing strategic environment,” Minister Dutton said.

“Nuclear-powered submarines have superior characteristics of stealth, speed, manoeuvrability, survivability and endurance when compared to conventional submarines.

“With the ability to operate from both coasts, this will make our nuclear-powered submarines more responsive and resilient to meet the strategic environment.

“Today’s announcement will ensure Australia has the infrastructure and facilities ready to support those submarines when they enter service.

“A new Navy base on the east coast will also have significant advantages for training, personnel and for Australia’s defence industry.”

Navy’s current fleet of Collins-class submarines and other maritime capabilities will be able to be operated out of the new east coast base, which will provide critical support to the ADF’s undersea capability.

The Australian defense ministry will engage with state and local governments to determine the optimal site, which will be informed by the ongoing work of the Nuclear Powered Submarine Taskforce. This initial work is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.