A new report released by the Australian Federation of Shipbuilding Unions (ASFU) calls for six conventional submarines to be built in Australia. Without these, the country risks a glaring skills and national security gap during a 30-year wait for nuclear-powered submarines.
The report calls for up to six conventional submarines to be built in Australia between when the Collins-class submarines reach their end-of-life and the nuclear-powered vessels arrive in up to three decades, as part of the AUKUS arrangement. The conventional subs would need to commence building by 2026.
There will be projected intermittent gaps from 2038 when the current extended Collins-class submarines will need to be withdrawn from service every 24 months, leaving Australia with potentially no working submarines for long periods of time.
Seven in ten Australians also say submarines should be built in Australia even if they will cost more, according to the report.
When the government dumped the French Naval Group deal in 2021 for diesel-powered submarines, they left the local shipbuilding industry in jeopardy and thousands of jobs at risk as the country waits for up to three decades for nuclear-powered vessels.
“Much of the work on the nuclear subs is likely to be done overseas, so two generations of Australian workers risk losing access to highly-skilled, well-paying, secure jobs because of this cancelled contract,” said Acting ETU National Secretary Michael Wright.
“Highly specialised skilled workforces such as those in our shipbuilding sector take decades to build up. Once those jobs are lost and the workers leave, all that experience and knowledge is lost and it’s like starting from scratch again for the industry,” said Mr Wright.
According to the report:
“Australia needs to maintain and further develop our sovereign capability for maritime and defence production by retaining the ability to build naval ships and submarines. Without a robust shipbuilding industry, Australia will be completely reliant on other governments and foreign suppliers to deliver the capabilities that our navy needs, including maintenance and repairs.
Having the industrial capability to build new ships also means that we can build ships that meet Australia’s specific and unique needs.”– Closing Australia’s Submarine Capability Gap, 2022, p.8.
“If we don’t have a plan for the interim years, we’re not going to have a shipbuilding workforce available for the nuclear submarines,” said Mr Wright.
The report from the ASFU predicts that a plan to build the six conventional submarines would create up to 2,500 secure jobs, but urgent political action is needed to make this a reality.
Read the report here.