CANBERRA — Executives of the company that builds half of America’s Virginia-class submarines are paying their first visit to Australia since the AUKUS announcement, touring the facilities at sub base HMAS Stirling, visiting the yards near Adelaide and ending with time in Canberra to speak with key political leaders.
“We very much view this as a generational partnership, one that we’re leaning into, and one that we believe will help generate capability and capacity in Australia,” Eric Chewning, HII’s executive vice president for strategy and development, told a group of reporters.
Their visit began in Sydney, where they met with officials from the Australian Trade and Investment Commission, and then on to Western Australia, where the first expanded presence of US submarines will be felt over the next few years as Australia embarks on making $8 billion in improvements to the sub base.
That will be followed by regular visits of current American and British nuclear-powered attack subs by 2027 as part of what will be known as Submarine Rotational Force West. The first of three to five Australian Virginia-class boats will arrive in the 2030s. They will be followed by SSN AUKUS boats built in Britain and Australia for both countries’ navies. Those will be first deployed by the Royal Navy in the 2030s and by the Royal Australian Navy in the 2040s.
The HII delegation met with senior government officials, as well as with representatives from ASC, builder of the Collins class subs, and Australian Naval Infrastructure (ANI), a government-owned enterprise that includes the South Australia shipyards.
Chewning conceded that the American sub industrial base is already quite “full,” as evidenced by the fact that it can only build 1.4 Virginias each year on average right now, while the government target is 2 Virginias every year. On top of that, the attack subs are facing competition for resources from the new Columbia-class ICBM boats. As the top American naval officer, Adm. Mike Gilday told Breaking Defense during a recent visit here: “We’re leaning more towards Columbia because we’ve required to, and there has been a bit of a cost there for the attack boat line, for the Virginia-class production line.”
The boomers are the Navy’s — even the entire Pentagon’s — top acquisition priority, which are eating into industry’s ability to build two Virginias and one Columbia every year.
But workforce issues are also key to ramping up Virginia-class production. HII, Chewning noted several times, hired 5,000 new workers last year and plans to hire another 5,000 this year. As the AUKUS enterprise grows Australia will need to supply its own nuclear-certified welders from a current base near zero, have Australian suppliers get certified to meet the unique standards of the nuclear boat companies and take other steps to ensure Australia can both build and maintain the mix of Virginia and SSN AUKUS boats.
That provides Australia and HII with the chance to “expand industrial base capacity for the (nuclear) system,” he said.
As a small and as yet indeterminate part of that effort, Chewning said the company expects to expand their presence in Australia from the currently tiny office with seven employees.
Source : Breaking Defense