First US submarine repairs in Australia scheduled for summer

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy will conduct its first submarine maintenance work in Australia next summer using the sub tender Emory S. Land, with 30 Australian sailors embarked to learn how to repair the Virginia class of submarine.

This will be an early step in establishing a nuclear-powered attack submarine maintenance capability at the HMAS Stirling naval base in Western Australia in the next few years as part of the trilateral AUKUS arrangement.

U.S. Navy Undersecretary Erik Raven said the service has already taken a number of steps since the March announcement of the AUKUS “optimal pathway,” which lays out three phases: U.S. and U.K. submarines operating out of Stirling; Australia buying and operating new and used Virginia-class submarines from the U.S.; and Australia building and operating its own SSN-AUKUS submarine.

Raven said Australian officers, sailors and government civilians are already in the nuclear training pipeline with the U.S. Navy and are learning attack sub maintenance procedures in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and at Barrow-in-Furness, England.

Australia is making upgrades at Stirling, he said, and planning for the sub tender-based maintenance period next summer is underway.

“That tender-based maintenance period will include 30 Australian exchange sailors that will deploy with the tender for qualifications to participate in maintenance,” Raven said Thursday at a Navy League congressional shipbuilding breakfast.

In 2024, Raven said, the first Australian sailors will be assigned to serve on U.S. submarines, and Australian maintainers will begin performing maintenance at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard as part of their training.

Additionally, the navies will begin buying training systems and simulators that will go to Stirling.

To support those plans, Raven urged lawmakers, some of whom were in the audience, to pass as soon as possible four legislative proposals the Navy sent to Congress.

“Current law limits our ability to undertake the next steps of this program,” he said. “Specifically, absent relief, we cannot receive the funds that Australia has committed to invest in the U.S. submarine industrial base; train Australian workers in construction and maintenance for the nuclear submarine industry; sell a Virginia-class submarine to Australia; or modernize our export control systems to execute this ambitious program.”

He asked that these measures be included in the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act still being considered by the House and Senate.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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