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Australia to build east coast base for its planned nuke subs

The USS Missouri, seen during a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on August 13, 2014. (State Department/Released)
March 13, 2022

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Australia is to build a new submarine base on the east coast of the country to support its new nuclear-powered submarines, the Australian prime minister says.

Last September, the Australian government announced a plan to acquire at least eight nuclear submarines as part of the newly-established trilateral security arrangement between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. (AUKUS).

At that time, China criticized the AUKUS deal, describing it as “extremely irresponsible” and “intensifying the arms race.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a joint statement with Minister of Defense Peter Dutton late on Monday that the future east coast submarine base “would enhance Australia’s strategic deterrent capability in the Pacific Ocean.”

Australia already runs a submarine base in Fleet Base West in Garden island, off the Western Australia coast, home of its navy’s six Collins-class submarines.

“Fleet Base West will remain home to our current and future submarines, given its strategic importance on the Indian Ocean,” said Morrison.

The Australian government has identified three locations for the new submarine base on the east coast: Brisbane, Newcastle, and Port Kembla.

It is estimated that more than AU$10 billion (US$7.3 billion) will be needed for facility and infrastructure development, including the new submarine base, according to the Australian Ministry of Defense.

The eight planned nuclear submarines would cost AU$70 billion (US$ 51.2 billion) at an “absolute minimum” and could be as much as AU$171 billion (US$125 billion), according to a report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, or ASPI, Canberra-based think  tank.

Morrison said that under the AUKUS partnership, Australia “will have access to the best technology in the world to support our efforts to deter threats against our national interest in the Indo-Pacific.”

AUKUS, set up to address regional security concerns, is widely viewed as an effort to counter China’s influence.

Quad ‘not set up to focus on Europe’

In an address to the Lowy Institute, another Australian think tank, also on Monday, Morrison said, “Australia faces it’s most difficult and dangerous security environment in 80 years.” He was referring to the ongoing crisis in Europe and the broader challenge to the world order that “will inevitably stretch to the Indo-Pacific.”

Australia is also a member of another strategic grouping that hedges against a rising China – the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) – together with the U.S., India and Japan.

Scott Morrison and three other Quad leaders held a virtual meeting last Thursday to discuss the implications of the war in Europe specifically for the Indo-Pacific.

With India refusing to condemn Russia’s aggression, there have been concerns about a rift within the Quad.

Morrison said that “there are powerful actors in our region who are watching closely, looking for signs of weakness and division within the West,” implying the need to refocus and strengthen the partnership.

He said that the Quad “wasn’t set up to focus on Europe” but “to focus on strategic issues, on humanitarian issues, economic development issues in the Indo-Pacific.”

Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst on defense and security at ASPI, said the meeting last week “marked the limits of the Quad’s ability to coordinate on key issues of concern outside of an Indo-Pacific context.”

“It does highlight that the Quad won’t necessarily be a global actor in its own right,” he said.