Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
Western Australian Maritime Museum Fremantle
Thank you Peter (Horobin, President, Submarine Institute of Australia) for that introduction.
My Ministerial colleague, Jason Clare, Minister for Defence Materiel,
My Parliamentary colleague, Senator David Johnston, Senator for Western Australia and Opposition Spokesman for Defence,
Vice Admiral Russ Crane, Chief of Navy, and
Rear Admiral Robert Thomas, USN, representing the Commander of the United States Submarine Force in the Pacific Fleet.
I thank the Submarine Institute of Australia for inviting me to give the opening address to the Institute’s Fifth Biennial Conference.
The Submarine Institute is a keen and well informed participant in the public debate about submarine issues.
The Institute has made a significant contribution to both the debate about the Collins Class submarine and the Future Submarine Project.
The Institute has also played an important role in preserving the history of submarines in Australian service, including the AE2 submarine project, dedicated to the AE2’s role in the Gallipoli campaign.
Maritime strategy and capability are vital to Australia.
Deterring and defeating a potential armed attack upon Australia depends in large measure on our ability to control our maritime approaches.
The importance of maritime power is clearly stated in the 2009 Defence White Paper.
Maritime power is critical to the future structure of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) – clearly seen in Force 2030.
The Government’s decision to acquire 12 Future Submarines, to be assembled in South Australia, is a defining element of Force 2030 and Australia’s future maritime power.
It is appropriate that your Conference is held here in Western Australia, on the shores of the Indian Ocean.
The Indian Ocean and its region are very important to Australia’s national interests.
The Indian Ocean is the third largest body of water in the world. Australia has the largest maritime jurisdiction within it.
It is even more appropriate that your Conference is held here in Fremantle.
During World War Two, Fremantle was a most important base for Allied submarines. It was the second largest Allied submarine base in the Pacific Theatre after Pearl Harbour.
A stone’s throw away, Fremantle hosted British Royal Navy, Dutch and United States’ submarines.
Following World War Two, the progressive draw down of the British Royal Navy’s presence in the Indian Ocean spurred the development of naval infrastructure in Western Australia.
In 1969 the Australian Government approved construction of a 'modest' facility on Garden Island. In 1973, the four-kilometre causeway was completed and construction on the island began in earnest.
In July 1978, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) commissioned HMAS STIRLING as a forward support base.
In 1987, Defence Minister Kim Beazley announced that the RAN would become a two-ocean navy within ten years.
For the first time, up to half of the RAN’s surface and submarine fleet would be based in Western Australia.
AUSTRALIA’S STRATEGIC PRIORITIES AND PARTNERSHIPS
Eighteen months ago, when the Government released the 2009 Defence White Paper, the White Paper affirmed the Government’s commitment to:
(i) the defence of Australia;
(ii) a secure immediate neighbourhood in the South Pacific;
(iii) strategic stability in the wider Asia-Pacific; and
(iv) support for a rules-based global security order.
The White Paper also set out Force 2030 – an ADF that is properly structured, equipped and prepared for the long-term defence of Australia.
Australia’s best defence will continue to be an international environment in which nation states address their differences before any use of force.
In this respect Australia will continue to contribute to the region’s evolving peace and security architecture.
Australia welcomes the establishment of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus, or ADMM+, the inaugural meeting of which I attended in Hanoi last month.
By involving the countries of the East Asia Summit together with the United States and Russia, the ADMM+ creates an institution in which Defence Ministers of the region’s key powers can have a conversation about the full range of peace and security matters in our region.
The engagement and presence of the United States remains vital to the Asia-Pacific.
The United States network of alliances and security partnerships in the Asia-Pacific has helped underwrite stability and prosperity in the region since World War Two.
The United States is conducting a Global Force Posture Review to ensure that it will be appropriately positioned for future security challenges throughout the world, including in the Asia-Pacific.
As United States Secretary of Defense Bob Gates made clear this week at AUSMIN in Melbourne, that global Review has neither been completed nor fallen for United States Government consideration.
Australia and the United States have resolved to work collaboratively on our force postures in the Asia-Pacific, and to continue to work with our regional partners to maintain a stable and secure region.
At AUSMIN, Secretary Gates and I agreed that our bilateral Force Posture Review Working Group would develop options to align Australian and US force postures in the Asia-Pacific in ways that are of benefit to our countries' national security.
Australia and the United States will work together to, for example:
develop options for increased US access to Australian training, exercise and test ranges;
consider the prepositioning of US equipment in Australia; and
develop options for greater use by the United States of Australian facilities and ports.
MARITIME POWER IN AUSTRALIA’S STRATEGIC POLICY
The strategic environment into which the Australian Defence Force may need to deploy continues to be challenging. As the Asia-Pacific region becomes more prosperous, we see an increase in regional capability.
While military modernisation will be uneven across the region, there are emerging, sophisticated capabilities including submarines.
Maritime capabilities are particularly prominent in regional militaries’ modernisation plans.
The White Paper focuses on a significant enhancement of Australia’s maritime capabilities for the twenty-first century including a substantially expanded submarine fleet. As the White Paper states:
By the mid-2030s, we will have a heavier and more potent maritime force. The Government will double the size of the submarine force (12 more capable boats to replace the current fleet of six Collins class submarines)...
A potent and credible maritime capability is important to Australia’s economic prosperity. More than 70 per cent of Australia’s exports and imports by value are transported by ship. Australia’s minerals and petroleum resources industry depends upon the security of maritime trade routes for its exports.
The Asia-Pacific is critically dependent on seaborne trade for its dynamic economic growth. The major North Asian economies rely heavily on imported energy and resources which pass through South East Asian and Indian Ocean sea lanes.
It is vital for trade, investment and prosperity purposes that these sea lanes be protected from potential threats such as piracy or maritime terrorism, and that any maritime disputes be settled peacefully and in accordance with international law.
Modernising and expanding maritime capabilities is necessarily a long term endeavour, given the long lead times, the level of investment involved and the challenges of technology.
Acquiring the Future Submarine will be a capability and procurement program that will span three decades into the 2030s.
That program will be determined by options for submarine design and construction currently under development for government consideration.
Our starting point, as it was in the White Paper, is Australia's strategic outlook.
WHY SUBMARINES ARE A KEY PRIORITY
The Government is committed to delivering an expanded submarine capability.
In the 21st Century, submarines continue to provide a means for Australia to defend our maritime approaches, if necessary at considerable distance from our shores. They allow the ADF to undertake sensitive missions where a submarine’s natural advantages such as stealth are crucial.
This is particularly valuable for maintaining situational awareness and other sensitive strategic missions, to ensure that the ADF attains the widest possible margin of information superiority over an adversary.
This is critical for a relatively small force with enormous operating areas, like the ADF.
A potent submarine capability also significantly increases the risks and planning challenges for any potential adversary. Countering our submarines requires a disproportionate expenditure of military effort.
Submarines represent an effective and flexible capability that the Government is committed to enhancing.
The 2009 White Paper judgement was that 12 boats will be necessary for the ADF to be able to deploy a sufficient capability on station to conduct strategic missions and support maritime task groups. Our geography is such that the necessity of long transits also leads one towards an expanded submarine force.
PROGRESS MADE WITH THE CURRENT COLLINS CLASS CAPABILITY
Strengthening the current submarine capability is the first step in the evolution towards the future submarine force.
The current submarine force has suffered in recent times from poor availability of the Collins Class and from workforce shortages. The Government committed to solving these problems in the White Paper and significant progress has been made. This is vitally important, as the current force is the foundation for the future.
The Defence Materiel Organisation has reorganised the way submarines are supported. Submarine sustainment is now managed from Adelaide, where DMO and Navy staff work closely in an Integrated Product Team with ASC Pty Ltd, the submarines’ builder and maintainer.
An Integrated Master Schedule has been agreed to meet Navy’s availability needs and work is underway to establish a new performance-based maintenance contract to commence in the next financial year. Stability and certainty in Collins Class availability is vital as we build towards the future submarine capability.
Navy has also made significant progress in building a submarine workforce. Numbers have grown by over 20 per cent in the past 18 months and current expectations are that the submarine workforce will exceed 600 by December 2011. This gives confidence that the workforce expansion needed over the next two decades to crew the Future Submarine force can be achieved.
FUTURE SUBMARINE DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT
The complex, sophisticated and costly nature of modern submarines adds to the challenge of capability development and procurement.
But the importance of this capability means we must get it right.
The way in which we approach the development and procurement of the future submarine capability is a key issue.
Our experience with the Collins program has lessons for us and the Government is very focussed on making sure that these are taken heed of.
My predecessor, Minister for Defence Faulkner, initiated a lessons-learnt process into the Collins Class to inform the development of the Future Submarines.
One area of enormous and expensive difficulty with Collins was the combat system.
Issues such as the combat system are complex and important issues for national security. Accordingly, it is vital that we get them right. The Government will take the necessary time to make the right decisions. The Government will ensure decisions are supported by robust planning, comprehensive knowledge and appropriate capability development processes – as must be the case for all capability acquisitions.
In the case of the submarine capability, the significance of the acquisition for future interoperability with the United States means we will also work closely with the US Government throughout the acquisition process.
At AUSMIN this week, Secretary Gates and I discussed working together to enhance our defence capabilities, including the Future Submarines.
We agreed that Australia-US cooperation on submarine systems was strategically valuable for both countries. For this reason our high level of submarine interoperability, and our technical cooperation, extends into future submarine acquisition programs.
Here in Western Australia, looking out to the Indian Ocean and its region, we appreciate the historical and current importance of our location.
From here, we see clearly the great opportunity afforded by being part of this dynamic region.
We also see clearly our maritime interests and the need to protect these.
The 2009 Defence White Paper re-emphasises the central importance of maritime power in Australia’s defence strategy through to 2030 and beyond.
The Future Submarine will be a critical component of Australia’s maritime power. This Conference will provide welcome insights into the development and future use of submarine capabilities.
The Government will be interested in both its deliberations and its outcomes.
I wish you all the best for a productive Conference.
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