AUKUS nuclear submarine plan to be revealed by March 2023

Australia’s future nuclear submarine plans are expected to be unveiled early next year, with the government also looking to detail its moves to fix a looming capability gap.

Defence Minister Richard Marles is working to announce by March which nuclear submarine Australia will acquire, in line with the original 18-month time frame set out when the AUKUS partnership was first revealed last year.

Within nine months, Labor also hopes to know whether an “interim” conventionally powered submarine fleet is needed to bridge the gap between the retirement of the Collins class and the arrival of nuclear-powered boats.

The Morrison government had previously suggested a decision on nuclear-powered submarines could be brought forward to before the end of this year.

But Mr Marles said that suggestion was “optimistic in the extreme” and it is clear the former government’s plan would have delivered submarines by the 2040s.

“I think bringing that time forward to eight years from now would be extremely optimistic.”

In recent weeks, numerous retired defence figures have warned Australia needs a so-called “son of Collins” fleet because the country will be left exposed before the AUKUS submarines are due to enter service in the 2040s.

Last week, outgoing Navy Chief Vice Admiral Mike Noonan said a new class of submarines to be built as an “interim” capability could not be ruled out.

“I think we’re going to see a period of study and reflection and we’re going to look at all options, so I don’t rule out any decision that our government might make with respect to realising our future navy capabilities,” Vice Admiral Noonan said.

On Tuesday, Mr Marles announced the surprise decision to extend the terms of Australia’s Defence Chief, Vice Chief of Defence and Chief of Joint Operations by two yearsin part to help oversee the massive naval project.

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Submariners say a new version of the Collins-class sub is needed as a stopgap(Andrew Greene)

“The former government left a lot of major procurements to fall behind time. Australia has a number of capability challenges – most significantly delivering the next generation of submarines,” Mr Marles said.

“And as a country, it’s important that we are bedding down the new AUKUS arrangement.

“Against this backdrop, in considering the new service chiefs the Albanese government has placed an emphasis and a premium on continuity,” he told reporters.

While the ADF’s most senior leaders will remain beyond their initial four-year appointments, new service chiefs have been announced for Navy, Army and Air Force.

Rear Admiral Mark Hammond will become Chief of Navy, Major General Simon Stuart Chief of Army and Air Vice Marshal Robert Chipman will become Chief of Air Force.

Mr Marles said the senior Australian Defence Force leadership appointments came at a time that was “as strategically complex as any since the end of the Second World War in terms of our national security and the needs of our defence procurement”.

Labor is also expected to complete a promised Defence Force Posture review next year.

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A look inside Australia’s nuclear submarine deal

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