The Australian government plans to build a new submarine base to support nuclear-powered submarines on the country’s East Coast, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on March 7.

The new Future Navy Base for the Royal Australian Navy seeks to add capacity and capability on top of Fleet Base West in Western Australia, the home of the country’s current six-vessel Collins-class submarine fleet, Morrison said in an address to the Lowry Institute and a press release issued jointly by the Prime Minister and Australian Department of Defense.

 The Australian Defense Department estimated the transition to the new nuclear-powered submarine, including the infrastructure for them with the new base, will cost over $7.3 billion (in U.S. dollars). 

Since the late 1980s, the Royal Australian Navy has deployed major units from bases on both the East and West Coasts, but the Collins-class submarines were based at Fleet Base West at HMAS Stirling.

In his address, Morrison underscored the East Coast basing for the nuclear-powered vessels is only for adding more capacity, not relocating existing or planned future capacity from Fleet Base West.

“Fleet Base West will remain home to our current and future submarines, given its strategic importance on the Indian Ocean. The decision to establish an East Coast submarine base has been many years in the making as part of our transition from Collins. However, the Government has now determined that, to support our decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, establishing a second submarine base on our East Coast will enhance our strategic deterrent capability, with significant advantages in operational, training, personnel and industrial terms,” he said.

Morrison said this new optimized base would give homeported submarines specialized wharfs, maintenance facilities, administrative and logistics support, and suitable accommodation for submarine crews and support staff.

Notably, the Prime Minister said the East Coast submarine base will “enable the regular visiting of U.S. and U.K. nuclear-powered submarines.”

Some of that funding will also go into upgrading Fleet Base West for nuclear-powered submarines and allow visits from U.S. and U.K. nuclear-powered submarines.

Last September, Australia decided to cancel a program to replace Collins-class conventionally-powered diesel-electric attack submarines with 12 new conventionally-powered submarines designed by France’s Naval Group and instead partner with the U.S. and U.K. to help it procure nuclear-powered attack submarines (Defense Daily, Sept. 15, 2021).

The partnerships, called AUKUS, began with an 18-month exploratory period to inform how Australia will pursue the new capability.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday noted this effort to properly design, build, support and oversee an Australian nuclear submarine fleet may very well take decades before the first vessel is launched (Defense Daily, Sept. 23, 2021).

“Defense has not constructed a major new base since Robertson Barracks in the 1990s. Construction of a new East Coast submarine base would be a larger undertaking and the largest infrastructure investment in the Integrated Investment Program,” Morrison said.

The Defense Department started by looking at 19 potential sites and have narrowed it down to three preferred options: Brisbane, Newcastle and Port Kembla. They were chosen based on various criteria including access to exercise operating areas, proximity to industrial infrastructure, and significant population centers to support recruitment and personnel.

“With the ability to operate from both coasts, this will make our nuclear-powered submarines more responsive and resilient to meet the strategic environment. Today’s announcement will ensure Australia has the infrastructure and facilities ready to support those submarines when they enter service,” Minister for Defense Peter Dutton said in a statement.

The government said the current Collins-class fleet and other naval vessels will also be able to operate out of the new East Coast base.