AUKUS deal: HMAS Stirling to become homeport for Australia’s nuclear submarine under $8 billion naval base expansion plan

The Astute-class submarine alongside in Perth, Australia (Picture: British High Commission Australia/Twitter).

Western Australia will be home to Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines from the early 2030s, as part of an $8 billion expansion of Perth’s naval base.

Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers announced this morning that WA was set to play a key role in the AUKUS defence and security partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom on nuclear-powered submarines.

Speaking in Rockingham, near the HMAS Stirling naval base, he described it as the “biggest industrial undertaking in Australia’s history”.

There will be four main elements for WA:

  • Wharf upgrades and expansion of maintenance training, and expanded logistical capacity at HMAS Stirling;
  • More frequent and longer visits of American submarines from this year, and UK subs from 2026;
  • HMAS Stirling will host rotations of US and UK submarines from 2027 as part of Submarine Rotational Force West, known as SRF-West;
  • WA will be home to Australian nuclear-propelled submarines from the early 2030s, the US Virginia class.

Mr Chalmers said there would be 500 direct jobs to sustain the initiative from 2027 to 2032.

Australia’s nuclear submarine program will cost up to $368 billion over the next three decades, with confirmation that the federal government will buy at least three American-manufactured nuclear submarines and contribute “significant additional resources” to US shipyards.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was in the US to help announce the landmark AUKUS pact in San Diego this morning.

Investment to span a decade

Mr Chalmers said the $8 billion upgrade of HMAS Stirling amounted to an investment in the “future of Western Australia”.

“[In] its workers, its industries and its economy, which will create around 3,000 jobs, plus another 500 or so when it comes to SRF-West,” he said.

The deal is expected to see $1 billion invested over the next four years, with the overall amount committed over 10 years.

“It will be all about making sure the infrastructure at HMAS Stirling can accommodate the increasing visits and the rotational forces, and when they arrive in the early 2030s, our own nuclear-propelled subs,” Mr Chalmers said.

He said the federal government would continue to work with Australian Naval Infrastructure and the WA government to develop options for large vessel infrastructure.

“The dry dock is part of the considerations of the Defence Strategic Review that the deputy prime minister will release between now and the budget,” the treasurer said.

“We continue to work with everyone involved in Henderson and the dry dock to make sure that we get the right outcome.”

‘Opportunity for young Western Australians’

WA Defence Industry Minister Paul Papalia said the announcement confirmed the sector’s position in the diversification of the state’s economy.

“Western Australia will build on its already substantial capability to sustain conventional submarines. We will build an entire new capability to sustain nuclear submarines,” he said.

“It means an opportunity for young Western Australians to enter an entirely new career path and know that there is an opportunity there for their entire lives.”

Mr Papalia said it was no mistake the announcement was being made at South Metro TAFE, which he said was the leading tertiary institution in the nation for the defence industry.

Mr Chalmers sought to pay tribute to WA Premier Mark McGowan, who could not attend the announcement due to illness.

“For his tireless, persistent, dedicated advocacy on behalf of the people of WA,” he said.

“We were hoping that he would be able to join us, but in his absence can I say how much I appreciate personally, and how much the Albanese government appreciates our ability to work really, really closely with Mark as premier and as treasurer.”

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