Documents released under a Freedom of Information request suggest that the Royal Australian Navy could again base its submarine fleet out of Sydney Harbour as it looks for ways to accommodate its soon to be doubled submarine numbers.
The request was made by South Australian Senator, and former submariner, Rex Patrick who was investigating the navy’s plans for its new class of submarines with several documents being released. The main report was written by Command D. L. Stevens in 2011 but remains the current baseline of thought, a more recent summary from September 2017 describing it as “by far the most detailed specific review into submarine basing”.
Senator Patrick, said it made “perfect strategic sense for Australia to have a two ocean submarine force posture”. Particularly in light of the recent commitment to double the fleet by replacing the existing six Collins class submarines with twelve Australian built submarines of the French Shortfin Barracuda design.
Options indicated within Sydney Harbour include the existing main naval base at Garden Island, the smaller HMAS Waterhen which currently hosts the mine hunting fleet or the old naval dockyard at Cockatoo Island. The latter however is considered extremely unlikely within naval circles. The report notes that basing up to four future submarines at Garden Island could be managed without “substantial new investment in buildings or wharves”.
The review ruled out Adelaide, Hobart, Gladstone, Port Stephens and Twofold Bay. Adelaide remains however the preferred location for deep maintenance at the ASC facility. Alternative ports in NSW including Jervis Bay and Newcastle were listed as considerations, but ranked below Sydney. Since the release of these documents the NSW State government has said that it would support a move to base submarines in a secondary port like Newcastle citing overcrowding in Sydney.
The submarine fleet was moved to Fleet Base West in Western Australia in 1999 during the introduction of the new Collins class submarines. The old submarine base HMAS Platypus, which had hosted the Oberon class fleet in Sydney Harbour’s Neutral Bay was then sold on for urban renewal. The decision has been controversial however, with the remote location being unpopular with families and blamed for the submarine force’s manpower shortages.
In a statement, Defence Minister Marise Payne stated the Navy and Defence Department were continuing to investigate long-term basing options for an expanded submarine fleet.
“No decisions have been made on the basing of the future submarine fleet as the first boat is not expected to enter service until the early 2030s,” she said.
“A range of initial submarine basing options are expected to be presented by Defence to the Government for consideration in late 2019.”