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Defence white paper: new submarine fleet to cost taxpayers $150 billion

Defence Minister Marise Payne at Parliament House on Thursday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen The new Defence strategy includes a substantial boost to the number of people in the armed forces. Photo: Glenn Campbell
Nanjing Night Net

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launches the Defence white paper. Photo: Andrew Meares

Defence Minister Marise Payne announces a major increase in the Defence budget. Photo: Andrew Meares

Australia faces ‘broader range of threats’ than ever beforeDefence spending boost will take spending to $1 trillion

Australia’s new fleet of 12 submarines will cost at least $50 billion just to build, the Turnbull government’s Defence white paper has revealed – at stark odds with public claims by shipbuilders that they can be constructed at a fraction of that price.

The price tag of more than $4 billion per boat is spread over the next 30 years, but it does not include lifetime maintenance of the submarine fleet, which is likely to be at least that much again and perhaps twice as much, bringing the total of the program to a staggering $150 billion.

The white paper, released on Thursday, outlines Australia’s plans to defend itself for the next 20 years.

On submarines, the white paper commits to a “rolling acquisition”, which means that by the time the final boat is built, the first one will be ready to retire, creating a continuous build indefinitely.

While shipbuilders bidding to construct the submarine fleet have put the cost as low as $20 billion or less, the white paper states clearly that Defence estimates the cost of designing and constructing the fleet alone – not including sustainment – will be at least $50 billion.

Concerns about future threats of cyber attacks has been dramatically underscored by the white paper’s announcement that there will be 800 new personnel committed to cyber defence and a further $300 million on cyber hardware.

And the regional instability sparked by China’s rise features strongly in the government’s thinking, with the white paper noting that “as China grows, it will continue to seek greater influence within the region”.

Australia calls on China to provide “reassurance to its neighbours by being more transparent about its defence policies”.

Critically, the government has promised not to cut any of its promised $30 billion boost to defence no matter what happens to economic growth.

The government will meet its pledge to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence by the 2020-21 financial year – three years earlier than promised. But now that the white paper is locked in, it will be “decoupled” from GDP growth, meaning money won’t be cut even if GDP forecasts are scaled back.

The white paper reveals the government will also significantly boost its maritime surveillance capabilities, buying an additional seven P-8 surveillance planes on top of the eight already announced, and purchasing seven Triton surveillance drones.

The white paper also commits the government to boosting the ADF’s uniformed personnel by 2500 above current plans.

The change will increase the permanent force to its largest size since 1993.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the white paper was a plan to “become more powerful on land and in the skies and more commanding both on the seas and beneath them”.

“The government’s continuous build strategy for the Australian submarine industry recognises the long construction timelines for the new submarines,” he said.

“We will ensure the Australian submarine involvement is sustainable over the longer term by building a new force of 12 regionally superior submarines, doubling the size of our current fleet.”

The defence budget will rise from $32.4 billion this year to $58.7 billion in 2025-26.

Nine per cent of the $195 billion that will be spent over the next decade on defence capability projects will go towards hi-tech areas of intelligence, electronic warfare, space and cyber capabilities.

One quarter of the $195 billion will go to the navy, including initial work on the 12 new submarines, but also on building nine anti-submarine warfare frigates and 12 offshore patrol vessels.

It will also include land-based anti-ship missiles stationed in the country’s north.

A further quarter will be spent on “enablers” such as upgrades to bases, airfields and ports, improvements to information technology and new simulators and training facilities

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