Australia will step up its pursuit of foreign talent to help develop a nuclear submarine workforce, as the defence force buys over a $1 billion worth of surveillance aircraft to upgrade its anti-submarine capability.
Discussions are taking place with AUKUS partners in the US and the UK about easing the movement of people needed to deliver the program between the countries, Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Tuesday.
Mr Marles did not rule out introducing new visas or easing security clearances to attract personnel with expertise in building and maintaining a submarine fleet.
“We are going to need to be getting the talent from both countries, from the US and the UK, applied to the production lines that we build here,” told the Submarine Institute of Australia conference in Adelaide.
“And I think there will be a dimension of that inevitably in relation to sustainment as well.”
Australian submariners are currently doing a nuclear propulsion course in the US to build skills of their own.
Mr Marles said Australia needs to step up the number of domestic personnel travelling overseas to develop their skills and broaden the spectrum of people taking part, from tradespeople to PhDs.
Although the AUKUS program is still in its early stages, he claimed the navy is on track.
Visits from US nuclear submarines are ramping up, with the recent rotations of the USS Mississippi and USS North Carolina helping Australian personnel build familiarity with the vessels and their capability.
But Mr Marles warned small delays now could ripple out into bigger delays down the line.
“If we start losing that timeline early on, the whole thing blows out,” he said.
Meanwhile, Australia will buy a fourth Triton drone and upgrade its fleet of P-8A Poseidon patrol planes under a new $1.5 billion package.
The Triton is a long-range surveillance drone capable of keeping watch over Australia’s vast maritime zones.
The first of the four is set to be delivered by 2024. The drones will be based at the Tindal air base in the Northern Territory and be operated by personnel at Edinburgh in South Australia.
The 14 Poseidon patrol and response aircraft will be upgraded to include anti-submarine enhancements as well as strike and intelligence-gathering capabilities.
The first will enter service in 2026 and the upgrades on all 14 planes are due to be completed by 2030.
An extra 140 jobs in SA and the NT are expected to be created by the $220 million allocated to a maintenance workforce.
Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy said the package will enhance Australia’s ability to operate out of its northern bases, which was a recommendation of a landmark defence review.
“The upgrades to the fleet of Poseidon aircraft strengthen our ability to secure and protect Australia’s maritime interests,” he said.
“The investment in both these aircraft will deliver more jobs, capability and security for Australians.”
Dominic Giannini and Jacob Shteyman
(Australian Associated Press)