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Fed: New submarine project moving along

06 Nov 2008 7:30 PM

Eds: Embargoed to 1930 AEDT, Thursday, Nov 6.

By Max Blenkin, Defence Correspondent

CANBERRA, Nov 6 AAP - The defence white paper will spell out what Australia's next-generation submarines will be required to do, what weapons they will carry and how many will be built, the federal government says.

The government had already committed to building the vessels in Australia in what will be the most technically and technologically complex project ever undertaken in this country, parliamentary secretary Greg Combet said.

Mr Combet, in an address to the Submarine Institute of Australia tonight, said submarines provided an essential defence capability that would be needed for the foreseeable future.

"The white paper will clarify the operational role and capabilities required from our new submarines," he said.

"This will determine the number and size of the submarines to be procured, as well as the systems and weapons that they will require."

To help make those judgments, the white paper would also closely review thestrategic environment and assess the potential for threats that might arise from the growing fleets of submarines and underwater warfare capabilitiesin the region.

Australia presently operates a fleet of six Collins class submarines, regarded as the most sophisticated conventional submarines in the world.

They were built in Australia at a cost of5 billion under a program launched in the early 1980s.

The project encountered significant technical problems and delays, only fully overcome last year with the installation of a new computerised combat system.

Mr Combet said amid all that controversy, it should be recognised that the building the Collins boats in Australia was a major achievement, but underwater technology and anti-submarine warfare had moved on since.

"If we are to retain a technological edge, a new submarine platform will berequired when the Collins submarines start to retire in about 2025," he said.

Last month the government announced funding of4.67 million to conduct studies on a replacement submarine.

That study will provide a basis for understanding the international submarine industry, including potential new military-off-the shelf designs, how anAustralian-build program might be supported, management of intellectual property and commercial sensitivities, Mr Combet said.

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