Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper

As Canada readies for a new defence review, Australia has just released its long-awaited Defence White Paper, along with an Integrated Investment Program as well as a Defence Industry Policy Statement (available here along with associated documents).

Unsurprisingly for an island continent, the White Paper is centred around a maritime-based strategy with a focus on Southeast Asia and the emerging threat posed by China to the region. To counter this threat, the Australian government proposes significantly enhanced maritime warfare capabilities over the next 20-30 years.

Perhaps the most striking of these naval capabilities will be the acquisition of 12 “regionally superior” conventional submarines. The fact that these submarines will be based on a Competitive Evaluation Process between three offshore designs (Japanese, German, French) has already raised a firestorm of protest from local Australian shipbuilders. Australia’s experience with the notorious Collins-class submarines still resonates down under. Perhaps more surprising still, the Expert Panel which surveyed public opinion preparatory to the release of the White Paper, found that the number one question from Australians was: why are we not acquiring nuclear-powered submarines?

The Australian focus on submarines raises a similar issue for Canadian policy makers. What, if anything, does the current government propose to do about a replacement for Canada’s current fleet of 4 Upholder-class diesel-electric submarines? Where might such replacements fit in Canada’s defence strategy of the future? How would such submarines be acquired given the home-build philosophy of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy?

As always, the Australian example provides an interesting comparative foil to similar approaches and problems in Canada.

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