A Royal Australian Navy diesel and electric-powered Collins Class submarine in Sydney Harbour. Photo: AFP/Peter Parks

The Australian government has ratified an agreement with the French shipbuilding company Naval Group to build 12 submarines, the Australian Navy announced on February 11.

The submarines will be built in Australia as part of a program designed to “help protect Australia’s security and prosperity for decades to come … the Attack Class submarines are a major pillar of the Australian government’s A$90 billion National Shipbuilding Plan, which will see 54 naval vessels built in Australia,” the announcement said.

The strategic requirements of that plan was set out in Australia’s 2016 Defense White Paper which outlines three strategic interests that would guide the country’s foreign and military policies. The first was the military alliance with the United States, the second the need to establish partnerships with the militaries in Papua New Guinea, East Timor and other Pacific island nations and the third, a stable Indo-Pacific region and the need to address the increased military power of China.

The white paper states that “the growth in the capability of China’s military forces is the most significant example of regional military modernisation,” and goes on to say – perhaps so as not to appear too provocative given Australia’s sensitive relations with China which include massive trade in minerals and other goods – that “other countries are also undertaking extensive modernization programmes.”

The Royal Australian Navy Submarine Service has not seen combat since World War I, though Australian submarines have conducted extensive surveillance operations throughout Southeast Asia. In 1999, at least one submarine from Australia’s fleet – which now consists of six Collins Class vessels – operated in support of the International Force for East Timor.

The submarine reportedly landed special forces operatives in East Timor and later escorted transport ships and monitored Indonesian communications.

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