SUBMARINE JOBS WILL BE SENT OFFSHORE UNDER NUCLEAR DEAL WITH US AND UK, DEFENCE SUPPLIERS SAY
September 20, 2022
By defence correspondent Andrew Greene, ABC News
1 October 2021
Australia’s switch to nuclear-powered submarines is prompting a government push for the fleet to be built faster, possibly at the expense of local industry content, to make up for time lost under the now-scrapped French deal.
The federal government last month dumped its $90 billion contract with France’s Naval Group to design and construct conventionally powered submarines, in favour of a nuclear fleet.
Sources familiar with recent discussions involving Prime Minister Scott Morrison and senior colleagues claim the government is now open to relying more heavily on “proven” overseas suppliers to get the project completed sooner.
“Schedule is what the government is talking about now, Australian Industry Content (AIC) is not the priority it once was,” one official said, who spoke to the ABC on condition of anonymity.
Another figure claimed recent discussions between the government and officials in the United States “made it clear that Australian defence industry was not as high a priority as it previously was”.
Inside government ranks, the region’s rapidly deteriorating strategic environment is cited as the main reason why Australia is focussed on schedule and may need to have a greater reliance on foreign defence suppliers, particularly in the early stages.
However local defence companies fear the decision to use the new AUKUS alliance with the United States and United Kingdom to acquire nuclear submarines will see significant amounts of work go offshore.
Brent Clark from the Australian Industry and Defence Network says it’s crucial the government commits to keeping as much work in this country as possible.
“Making sure that the government sticks to its mantra of creating a sovereign industrial capability in Australia, and not just export opportunities for UK and US industry”.
Under the previous deal, up to 12 Attack-class boats were to be built at Adelaide’s Osborne facility, with the French promising an Australian Industry Content (AIC) of 60 per cent.
Mr Clark says while the nuclear project is still in its infancy, the government must again commit to a similar target the French had for conventionally powered boats.
“Clearly we would not think that anything less than 60 per cent is acceptable”.
“We would really need the government to explain to its partners in the US and the UK that we need to have access to the intellectual property, the technical knowledge, the technical data, the know-how, the know-why.”
The ABC has approached Defence Minister Peter Dutton for comment.
The country’s peak engineering body is also expressing concerns that the necessary skills requirements for building, operating and maintaining a nuclear-powered submarine fleet have not been adequately addressed.
“We may not have the requisite engineering skills in Australia,” says Bronwyn Evans, the CEO of Engineers Australia.
The time it takes to develop those skills is quite a long gestation, including up to five to ten years, to have the sort of industry that we would need to support these nuclear submarines.”
Bronwyn Evans predicts Australia will be heavily reliant on overseas expertise for the new nuclear submarine endeavour, particularly in the first decade of the project.
“Always when you have a skills shortage you can build the capability, you can buy it in, you can borrow it.”
“My thought is that we’ll need to do all those things, in the long term we absolutely need to build this capability in Australia.”