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Hamilton-Smith demands locally-based sub design hub

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The Weatherill Government has stepped up a campaign to secure another key piece of infrastructure associated with the $50 billion future submarines contract, with Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith demanding a submarine design centre be built in Adelaide.

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However, he says the state won’t bear the cost of constructing it, arguing that “would come out of the program”.

The Federal Government and French shipbuilder DCNS last week signed an agreement to begin designing the much-anticipated new subs, formally beginning the work on the program.

Under the deal, DCNS will design the vessels based on its Barracuda nuclear attack boats, with Lockheed Martin winning a bid to be the preferred combat system integrator for the project.

“Now that DCNS have been awarded the design and mobilisation phase of their contract, the timing is right for the establishment of the Future Submarine Design Centre in South Australia, a centre that brings together industry, academia and government,” Hamilton-Smith told an electronic warfare industry forum this morning.

Hamilton-Smith told InDaily Adelaide was the “logical location for the Future Submarine Design Centre”, pointing to a $3 million high-tech submarine combat system laboratory opened by Lockheed Martin in Mawson Lakes last year as a precedent for “collaboration with industry, academia and government”.

A Shortfin Barracuda submarine mock-up at DCNS headquarters in Paris. Photo: EPA

A Shortfin Barracuda submarine mock-up at DCNS headquarters in Paris. Photo: EPA

He also argued that the UK had recently committed more than $300 million towards the design of a new submarine class, and concurrently invested $500 million into new design facilities at Barrow-in-Furness, where naval shipbuilder BAE systems is based.

“Learning from the UK experience, it is important for a number of reasons to have our Future Submarine Design Centre located close to where we will build our Future Submarines,” Hamilton-Smith said.

“It’s important that design and manufacturing facilities are co-located to allow that close working relationship between designer and builder to develop. This goes a long way to de-risking technical issues that often plague the start-up of complex projects.”

He said teething problems with the Air Warfare Destroyer project “might have been resolved more quickly through closer working relationships”.

Hamilton-Smith said there would be “a substantial amount” of the project’s $50 billion cost “put aside for a future submarine design centre”.

“The question will be where do they put it?”

He pointed out Lockheed Martin recently committed $13 million to a research and development lab in Melbourne, saying: “We need to understand we’re competing with other states and other universities.”

“We have to compete on a level playing field, but my message to our unis, and all involved, is we have to be the best of the best in order to win… but I’d make the point it’s logical to build it here because the subs are being built here.”

He said he had spoken to the three SA-based universities “about what they’re doing to gear up for defence opportunities”.

“They’ll all very well advanced with that,” he said.

But he insisted there would be no state-taxpayer-funded incentive to build a design centre locally.

“I expect the program to fund the sub design work, not the State Government,” he said.

“It won’t be the State Government’s role to co-fund the building and design of the subs… I don’t think a conversation about the state taxpayers being asked to help fund the design of a new submarine is a conversation that needs to be had at this point.

“I think the conversation we need to have is how the [Federal] Government’s going to deploy the $50 billion that’s been put aside for this program; I think that’s the conversation that needs to be had at the moment.

“We’re not in the business of paying for subs to be built.”

Hamilton-Smith will lead a contingent to Europe next week, incorporating the Euronaval international naval shipbuilding expo in Paris.

There will be 27 SA companies represented, with 16 local defence industry organisations highlighting their wares.

Uni SA, Flinders and Adelaide universities, TAFE SA and Study Adelaide will also be represented on the delegation.

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