As Australia embarks on its most complex industrial enterprise ever – the construction of nuclear-powered submarines – Navy Chief Vice Admiral Mark Hammond has urged the nation to adopt “strategic patience.”
Speaking on day one of the Indo-Pacific maritime exhibition in Sydney, Vice Admiral Hammond said the nuclear submarines would be a strategic capability.
He said there would be progress which would be incremental but foundational, with construction of the first SSN AUKUS expected to start by end of decade.
“We have built submarines in this nation before. We are going to build another submarine. This one will have a different propulsion system. We are not going to build the nuclear reactor ourselves. It will be built for us and installed in the submarines in Adelaide,” he said.
“Whilst we are absolutely transparent about and embracing all the challenges that come with this program, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we have done this before. This is on a different scale I acknowledge.”
“The biggest thing is the strategic patience part.”
He said he well recalled the criticism of the Collins-class submarines which are now the best conventionally powered subs on the planet.
Defence Minister Richard Marles said this was the largest Indo-Pac since the first back in 2000.
More than 800 defence industry companies are present, with representatives of more than 40 navies and more than 20 navy chiefs.
“This is happening at a hugely consequential moment in global affairs,” he said.
“This is also happening at a critically important moment in terms of Australia’s defence thinking, in terms of Australia’s naval thinking.”
Australia has announced its pathway to acquiring nuclear-powered submarines. The government is formulating its response to the surface fleet review which will be released in first quarter 2024.
Mr Marles said he was in the US last week, where legislation is now before the US Congress to enable sale of Virginia-class submarines to Australia and release of US technology.
“The process by which this will happen can’t begin until the legislation passes the US congress,” he said.
The Minister said it had been a long-held aspiration of Australia to gain better access to US technology through easing of US ITAR controls. Despite past efforts, not much has changed.
“Why is it going to be different now. The answer to that lies in AUKUS. The relationship between Australia, the US and UK has taken this conversation to a different level,” he said.
“But in a practical sense we now have this in front of the Congress. That has never happened before. The legislation which will give effect to the liberalisation of export restrictions in respect of Australia and the transfer of information is in front of the Congress as we speak.”
Despite, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s recent bridge building visit to Peking, China’s navy, the People’s Liberation Army – Navy, isn’t represented.
“At this stage we don’t have a navy-to-navy relationship with the PLA Navy,” said Vice Admiral Hammond.
Opposition Defence Spokesman Andrew Hastie said he was sensing morale issues in the Australian Defence Force and industry was deeply frustrated at the current uncertainty over lack of orders for new defence equipment.
“Some of them are having to let people go because there just aren’t the orders aren’t coming through and the cash flow,” he told journalists at the Indo-Pacific maritime exhibition in Sydney.
Mr Hastie said the government had struck the deal with the US and UK for submarines in about 10 years time.
“The challenge is, particularly around the Taiwan Strait is what do we do in the next 5-10 years to make sure we can deter unilateral military action in the region,” he said.
“That is why we need defence industry to be growing and to be re-industrialising this country and that’s not happening.”
Mr Hastie said the minister claimed the defence budget was on the right trajectory, but it was actually going backwards in real terms.
“Moreover AUKUS is going to soak up a good portion of the Integrated Investment Plan (IIP) and the overall defence budget and unless we expand the defence budget, we are going to have to cut other capabilities which is what’s happening with Army.”
Opposition defence industry spokesman Luke Howarth said the Prime Minister described this period as the most precarious and dangerous since World War 2.
“The problem is he’s shooting blanks. There is not an urgency to ensure that defence industry is adequately equipped and the manufacturing is done here,” he said.
“The reality is that defence industry has to be fed. I am talking to small and medium defence businesses; they are not seeing orders coming through.”
Source : Australian Defence