The strategic review of Australia’s defence forces is investigating the capacity of HMAS Stirling at Garden Island to simultaneously receive multiple nuclear-powered submarines from the US and UK.
The Henderson maritime precinct, south of Perth, has also been identified as a potential site for maintenance work on Australia’s planned nuclear submarine fleet, former defence minister Stephen Smith revealed.
Mr Smith and retired Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston were earlier this month appointed to lead the sweeping review of the army, navy and air force, which will report to the Albanese Government by next March.
Speaking at the Indian Ocean Defence and Security Conference in Perth on Friday, Mr Smith said a draft report with initial findings would be given to Defence Minister Richard Marles on November 1.
Mr Smith said the review was working “hand in glove” with a separate task force chaired by Vice-Admiral Jonathan Mead, which is looking at the options for Australia acquiring a nuclear submarine powered capability.
The pair this week visited Garden Island to see what infrastructure improvements were needed in the short and long term, “if a number of nuclear submarines, UK or US, would arrive at HMAS Stirling tomorrow”.
“We also are interested in, ultimately, on the basis that at some stage Australia acquires nuclear submarines, what potential do we have for maintenance and sustainment on the Henderson maritime strip,” he said.
Similar visits will take place in Port Adelaide and Brisbane in coming months, as well a tour of the nation’s “northern and western approaches”, including at RAAF bases Curtin and Learmonth.
“Very much a focus of the work that we are doing is how do we make sure that our northern and western approaches are not only protected strategically, but project capacity, project force, project the notion of familiarity,” Mr Smith said.
“We want to look very carefully at what’s occurred at those bases and other important infrastructure spots as we go up the Western Australian coast and down the Queensland coast.”
WA’s Defence Industries Minister Paul Papalia earlier this week repeated his call for the review to recognise WA was “under defended”.
“We are the source of around 50 per cent of the nation’s export value, we are a third of the continent and we have very few assets, beyond naval assets, here. I think (the review) will identify that as a key gap in the defence forces’ posture,” he said.
Mark McGowan said it was a “no brainer” that WA should be home to additional army and air force assets, though he did not believe that there was “any great likelihood that those resources would be called upon at short notice”.
“But if the question is: Given our nation’s capability and interests, where should our personnel and assets be placed? Surely serious consideration must be given to additional assets and personnel on the ground in Western Australia,” the Premier added.