Scrapped long-awaited large-hull defense vessel, details of nuclear submarine fleet revealed

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The Navy is “highly unlikely” to select a hybrid nuclear submarine combining British and American technology, as it seeks to replace Australia’s aging Collins-class fleet.

A Senate hearing today considered the government’s recent decision to quash a French submarine deal in favor of the acquisition of nuclear-powered ships with the help of its partners AUKUS, the UK and United States.

The head of the nuclear submarine task force, Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead, told the committee that Australia intends to select a “mature design” for its nuclear submarine, which will be built in within the framework of the AUKUS security partnership.

“It is our intention that when we start the construction program the design will be mature and there will already be a production run,” Admiral Mead said during the defense estimates hearing in Canberra.

“All options are on the table, but the plan is for the design to be mature when construction begins.”

A hybrid submarine made from American and British designs was deemed highly unlikely.(ABC News: Emma Machan)

Asked by Labor Senator Penny Wong, Defense Secretary Greg Moriarty said a single hybrid design was “highly unlikely”.

The scramble between UK and US companies for Australia’s future nuclear-powered fleet is well underway, with early debate on whether an American Virginia-class or British Astute-class submarine is the best base model.

During the hearings, defense officials played down suggestions of an impending “capacity gap” as Australia’s Collins-class submarines soon begin a series of “life-extension” upgrades. type life ”(LOTE).

Navy Chief Vice Admiral Mike Noonan said aging submarines would see their capabilities enhanced in LOTE upgrades starting in 2026, which could not be publicly disclosed.

Government abandons local construction in favor of overseas purchase

During the Senate estimate hearing, it was also revealed that the government had also quietly abandoned a long-standing commitment to build a “large-hull” ship in Western Australia to bolster its “scale-up” program. Peaceful”.

When questioned, defense officials confirmed that plans to build a local Pacific support ship had been scrapped in favor of an overseas purchase, but had not been publicly announced by the government.

Doubts about the project, first announced by former Defense Minister Christopher Pyne in 2018, began to emerge earlier this year, fearing that the Adelaide and Perth shipyards would not be able to ” welcome the work.

Three ministers examine a model shipbuilding facility.
Former Defense Industry Minister Christopher Pyne announced the long-awaited large hull ship which has now been scrapped.(ABC News: Nick Harmsen)

The opposition seized on this admission, accusing the Morrison government of “going back on its commitments” and causing a temporary suspension of the committee after a heated exchange between Labor Penny Wong and Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

Senator Wong asked Senator Payne to explain the amended plan.

“This is another Morrison government announcement that has not been made, is it?” Asked Senator Wong.

Senator Payne defended the offshore purchase, saying it would mean the large-hull vessel would be delivered to the Pacific sooner.

“The fastest way to do this, given the pace of shipbuilding currently underway at Osborne and Henderson, which are, after all, limited physical areas for shipbuilding capacity… is with this purchase. , to deliver it to the Pacific next year. “.


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