So, AUKUS is coming – what does it mean for WA, HMAS Stirling and Freo?

In a joint media release issued today, the Premier of Western Australia, Mark McGowan, and the WA Minister for Defence Industry, Paul Papalia, say that Western Australia will be at the forefront of Australia’s SSN AUKUS Pathway, ‘continuing its proud tradition as the home of Australian submarines.’

If you’re wondering what SSN stands for, it’s not Social Security Number – it’s Navy lingo for Submersible Ship (Nuclear).That is, a nuclear submarine.

The Premier and Minister anticipate that the ‘multi-generational undertaking’ to acquire and operate ‘conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered sovereign submarines’ will see significant benefits for jobs and the economy in the West.

Over the next decade, they state, the Australian Government will invest up to strong>$8 billion to expand HMAS Stirling, creating around 3,000 direct jobs.

We imagine at least some, of not many, of those will be around Rockingham, Henderson and Fremantle.

Folk will be interested to learn that this work will begin ‘right away, with the benefits to flow-on for decades to come’.

Beginning this year,Western Australia will receive more frequent port visits by United States nuclear-powered submarines, with the United Kingdom to follow from 2026.

As we reported in December last year, the USS Mississippi conducted interoperability training with personnel from the Royal Australian Navy around that time. She is one of six Virginia-class fast-attack submarines home-ported in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. Before her visit, the USS Texas visited here in 2020. We can expect to see more such subs roundabout soon.

USS Mississippi at HMAS Stirling, December 2022. Credit Chief Petty Officer Yuri Ramsay

This the Premier and Minister say ‘will further strengthen Australia’s experience with SSNs in Western Australia.’

As early as 2027, HMAS Stirling will host the rotational presence of UK and US nuclear-powered submarines. This initiative, known as ‘Submarine Rotational Force-West’ (SRF-West), will develop Australia’s ability to operate, maintain and safely steward our future SSNs by deploying Australian Navy personnel on visiting UK and US boats where they will gain at-sea experience with naval nuclear propulsion.

From the early 2030s HMAS Stirling will house Australia’s first sovereign SSN capability – the US Virginia class submarines.

Upgrades to HMAS Stirling over the next 10 years will include wharf upgrades, operational maintenance, logistics and training facilities, as well as opportunities for supporting infrastructure outside HMAS Stirling.

Additionally, 500 direct jobs will be created to sustain the SRF-West initiative over the period 2027-2032.

The Premier and Minister recognise the need to attract, develop and retain a highly-skilled workforce in Western Australia to underpin this project.

They say that the Albanese Government will work with the Western Australian Government to develop a skills and training program, leveraging existing relationships with WA vocational and tertiary institutions.

The Premier says –

“Growing Western Australia’s defence industry represents an enormous opportunity to diversify our economy and build the workforce of the future.

“This investment to support Australia’s defence capabilities will create thousands of local jobs for Western Australians – and we’ll work with the Federal Government to deliver the training and development to put local workers in the box seat for these jobs.

“HMAS Stirling is inextricably linked to my local community in Rockingham, and this investment will ensure Stirling continues to deliver tangible benefits to our State.”

Minister Papalia adds –

“The WA Government has long been a proponent of more defence industry investment in our State and we are encouraged by what this announcement means for Western Australia.

“Maintenance work on visiting UK and U.S. submarines will see hundreds of Australians employed to provide support and the sheer scale of infrastructure we will need to home port our future submarines, not to mention to host submarines that are visiting or on rotation, will be a boost for our local industry.

“Typically, about 70 percent of these Defence programs are spent on sustainment. That’s potentially tens of billions of dollars which will go into the economy and WA will get its fair share. We don’t even know exactly how many jobs this will eventually create. But it’s safe to say it will be in the thousands.”

So, there we are. The much anticipated AUKUS announcement with all its WA implications. Optimism abounds.

Not all folk will be enamoured of the announcement, we are sure. Expect anti-nuclear protesters to make their views known soon. But probably to no political avail as the decisions have been taken and you can be sure there’ll be no turning back in Canberra or Perth, whichever major parties are in power.

By Michael Barker, Editor, Fremantle Shipping News


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