The federal government’s naval modernisation plans are central to the 2016 Defence White Paper, Minister for Defence Senator Marise Payne has declared, with confirmation of the continuous build of surface warships including nine anti-submarine warfare frigates and 12 new offshore patrol vessels in Australia, and the planned acquisition of 12 future submarines, welcomed by industry.
But the construction location for the Future Submarine program is as yet unknown, despite a pledge to implement a “rolling acquisition program” for the new fleet, suggesting a preference for an Australian build, apparently so as not to pre-empt the competitive evaluation process that sought overseas, domestic and hybrid build options.
“The continuous onshore build strategy for naval surface vessels my government is delivering will fundamentally transform our naval shipbuilding industry, ensuring its sustainability in the long term,” said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the White Paper launch on Thursday. “Our shipbuilding workforce will be building the Navy’s frigates, offshore patrol vessels, and major and minor war vessels for decades to come.
“The government’s continuous build strategy for the Australian submarine industry recognises the long construction timelines for the new submarines. We will ensure that Australian submarine industry involvement is sustainable over the longer term by building a new force of 12 regionally superior submarines, doubling the size of our current fleet.”
And the Defence Minister stated that, following the Future Submarine program competitive evaluation process, a rolling acquisition program for the Australian submarine fleet will be established to “provide long-term planning certainty for Australian industries, for them to invest in both construction and sustainment activities”.
But at a press conference after the White Paper launch, Senator Payne made it clear that the government had not just announced the build location for the $50 billion acquisition program.
“We’ve indicated that by virtue of the size of the project there will always be considerable engagement for Australian work; there is absolutely no question of that and no doubt about that,” she said.
“But I’ve been absolutely clear that because the competitive evaluation process requested each international participant to provide an assessment based on three variations of build – international, hybrid and domestic – each has delivered that. They will all be assessed against those criteria, and we are not going to pre-empt in any way.”