Australia is committed to plugging the impending capability gap with home-built submarines, as tensions with China exacerbate regional security concerns.
The ageing fleet of Collins class submarines will undergo life-of-type extensions, but with nuclear-powered submarines provided by either the US or the UK not expected to be in Australian waters until 2040, an interim is required.
The plug in the capability gap will be filled with submarines built in Australia, Richard Marles said.
The Acting Prime Minister and Defence Minister said “we must plug” the gap.
“Making sure we have the most potent defence force we can have is absolutely a top priority of the government,” Mr Marles told ABC Radio.
“It’s going to be essential for us in terms of that future submarine capability to build the submarines in Australia.”
Mr Marles said China’s unprecedented military action near Taiwan was of “significant” concern, and Australia was pleading for a return to “calm”.
In the wake of a historic visit from US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, China has launched military drills in the Taiwan Strait and fired 11 ballistic missiles.
Australia, the US and Japan on the weekend condemned the latest escalation in tensions, with Beijing pushing back, calling itself the “victim” and accusing Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong of “finger pointing”.
China says it is extending its threatening military exercises, including anti-submarine drills, in what will cause widespread disruption for shipping and air traffic.
China has also suspended a host of bilateral matters, including talks with the US on climate change and on criminal matters, in retaliation.
Mr Marles said Australia was calling for calm and wanted a return to “normality” around the Taiwan Strait.
“We would much prefer an end to these exercises and a return to calm, normal,” he said.
“This is obviously a demonstration of (China’s) capability and a demonstration of its force, and that is significant.
“What we need to see now though is a return to calm. I think that’s what everyone in the region wants to be honest. I think that’s what everyone in the world wants.”
Mr Marles said China’s military build-up was of particular concern, given it was the “single biggest factor shaping the strategic environment of our region, arguably the world”.
“It’s certainly one of the key factors in shaping Australia’s strategic circumstances, and it’s why we need to make sure that we are building a defence force which is as capable as possible, as potent as possible, to keep Australians safe,” he said.
It’s that desire that has driven Mr Marles and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to recruit ex-defence minister Stephen Smith and former Australian Defence Force chief Sir Angus Houston to conduct a review into Australia’s defence capabilities for the next decade.
Last week, Sir Angus said the security conditions were the worst he’d seen in his lifetime.