Doorstop, RAAF Base Fairbairn, Canberra

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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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19 September 2023

SUBJECTS: $1.5 billion investment in boosting Australia’s maritime warfare capability, upgrading the P-8 Poseidons, equipping them with the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile from 2025, acquiring a fourth Triton, basing the Triton at RAAF Tindal, acquiring more Tritons in future, US cooperation, incident in the US involving an F-35.

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY PAT CONROY: Hi everyone. I'm Pat Conroy, the Minister for Defence Industry and I'm joined by Air-Vice Marshall Wendy Blyth, Head of Air Force Capability, and Air Commodore Ross Bender, who's the capability sponsor for this particular project.

I'm standing in front of the P-8 Poseidon aircraft, which is the most advanced maritime controlled aircraft in the world. We know that we're in the biggest arms race since World War II in the region. We know that we're seeing a record number of submarines being constructed and deployed in the Indo-Pacific. So, today I'm announcing a very significant boost to our maritime warfare capability with this announcement.

Today we are announcing $1.5 billion project, including to upgrade the P-8 Poseidon to give it greater undersea warfare capability, including the ability to detect and destroy submarines at a longer range and with a greater search radius. We're also upgrading the combat system of the P-8 Poseidon. Today, we're also announcing that the P-8 Poseidon will be equipped with the most advanced anti-ship missile in the world. We'll be equipping them from 2025 onwards with the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile.

Part of today's announcement is also that we'll be acquiring a fourth Triton uncrewed surveillance aircraft. The Triton provides 24 hours, seven-days-a-week surveillance of our northern maritime approach. All three announcements are very significant. The upgrades to Poseidon and the additional Triton cost slightly above $1.5 billion. They will generate 140 jobs in Australia. Australian industry will be intimately involved in delivering these projects. These projects are incredibly important. The Defence Strategic Review said that we need to invest more in long-range maritime strike, we need to invest more in the ability to detect and destroy submarines and we need to invest more in reconnaissance.

By upgrading the P-8 Poseidon, we are giving it that capability, we are equipping it with the most advanced anti-ship missiles in the world. We are giving it the ability to detect at longer ranges and destroy submarines when necessary. So, happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: With the Triton, if I may, given the last time [indistinct] facilities were typically running way late, where will they be based?

MINISTER CONROY: They will be based in Tindal with support from RAAF Edinburgh.

JOURNALIST: Is the RAAF, perhaps this is a question for the Air-Vice Marshall, still planning on getting six, seven Tritons eventually and if not, what's going to be the revised work rate for the four?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, I'll answer that question, Andrew, because it's a question for Government and the answer is that all those questions will be examined in the context of the National Defence Strategy that's being released next year and as part of a revision of the Integrated Investment Program. It's very importance to see these capabilities in conjunction. So, the decisions to acquire an extra two Poseidon and long range maritime patrol aircraft obviously complement the purchase of the Triton. So, you need to look at both projects together.

JOURNALIST: Could you tell one of your Airforce colleagues to just describe what the extra capability of the Poseidon will allow the Airforce to do?

MINISTER CONROY: Absolutely, I'll invite Wendy to --

WENDY BLYTH: Thank you for the question. So, there will be upgrades to the combat system, upgrades to the acoustic sensors and the ability to do water surveillance and underwater sensing [indistinct] capability.

JOURNALIST: And this is the Increment 3 upgrade?

WENDY BLYTHE: Using the Increment 3 that’s correct.

JOURNALIST: So, it's a US led program that we're part of?

WENDY BLYTHE: Australia and the United States, we're in a cooperative program. We work together to identify upgrade pathways for capability and jointly work out what should be incorporated and when. So yes, this is absolutely [indistinct].

JOURNALIST: Just one for the Minister, if I can. Minister, debris from a US Air Force F-35 has been found after a mishap yesterday where it went missing. Australia has invested pretty heavily in that capability. Are you confident in the safety of the F-35?

MINISTER CONROY: I'm confident that we've got the world's best safety regulations and I know that the Royal Australian Air Force takes these issues very seriously. The F-35 is the most advanced fighter jet in the world and we're very confident in the capability it provides.

JOURNALIST: The US Air Force has decided to stand down its fleet of F-35s, though, will the RAAF do the same?

MINISTER CONROY: I think it's too early to think or talk about those matters.

JOURNALIST: What does the scaling back of the US Navy [indistinct] program mean in terms of cost for Australia and other sustainable measures?

MINISTER CONROY: The critical thing is that we are through the type acquiring the most advanced long-range assisted maritime-controlled aircraft in the world. I think that I've seen that speculation. This is a program where the original numbers were something like 15 years old, so you can expect some change in the numbers if that eventuates. But the really critical thing is through acquiring four Triton aircraft we'll have the ability to, on a 24 hours, seven day a week basis, monitor the Northern approaches to Australia.

JOURNALIST: And do you have a date for when the first one arrives?


JOURNALIST: First flight?

MINISTER CONROY: I'll invite them, but quarter three 2024 is the timing - that's correct, always a good sign.

JOURNALIST: Today, Minister, the national broadsheet has described your colleague Richard Marles as a failure in his role as Defence Minister for not securing the funding the military needs, but also says in a comment piece today that AUKUS is killing local industry. Isn't there some validity to that argument?

MINISTER CONROY: I might invite two Air Force colleagues to step away while I answer that. I think it's very important to be respectful. I'll be very clear on a couple of things. First off, we're seeing an increase in the defence budget. The budget increases over the forward estimates and importantly, the budget in May this year increased the medium-term projections for the Defence budget. The budget for defence was briefly projected to increase to 2.1 per cent of GDP. It will now hit 2.3 per cent of GDP over the next decade. That's a sign of the commitment of the Albanese Labor Government to the defence of the nation. And we take that very, very seriously as evidenced by today's announcement.

Regarding AUKUS, AUKUS will drive 20,000 high-paying, secure jobs in Australia. It will deliver $30 billion of skills and training and uplift to defence companies in Australia. It will modernise Australian manufacturing, just as the construction of the Collins-class submarines modernised Australian manufacturing in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As a Defence Industry Minister, I'm excited by the opportunities of AUKUS to really inject more money into the local economy to drive advanced capabilities that we need. Because ultimately, this is about defending the nation and the Labor Party has always been the party of defence. You've seen it today, you've seen it in the actions of Prime Minister John Curtina during World War II, the actions of Gough Whitlam. They are all evidence that the Labor Party is incredibly committed to defence.

SPEAKER: Last question.

JOURNALIST: Minister, just briefly on the F-35. Again, we expect US Air Force is looking into that incident now, trying to get to the bottom of exactly what unfolded. As Defence Industry Minister here, do you expect to be kept up to date to, have you received any update on that or will you be having those briefings over coming days?

MINISTER CONROY: Whenever there's an incident that involves aircraft that Australia uses, we would expect, and we do get updated on the progress of those investigations. Safety of aircraft and aircrew is obviously paramount. Thank you very much, everyone.



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