(Bloomberg) -- The Australian government will spend at least A$10 billion ($7.4 billion) building a new base to house a future fleet of nuclear submarines, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison warns the Ukraine war will “inevitably stretch” to the Asia-Pacific.
Morrison announced the project, the first construction of a major new base in Australia since the 1990s, in a foreign policy speech in Sydney on Monday. The Defense Department has selected three possible east coast locations for the submarine facility -- Newcastle and Port Kembla in the state of New South Wales and the Queensland capital of Brisbane.
In his speech to the Lowy Institute, Morrison warned against rising militarization and attacks on liberal democracies in the Asia Pacific region, saying “Australia faces its most difficult and dangerous security environment in 80 years.”
“A new arc of autocracy is instinctively aligning to challenge and reset the world order in their own image,” he added.
News of the base comes as Morrison seeks to burnish his national security credentials ahead of an election that must be held by the end of May, with the prime minister’s center-right Liberal National coalition badly trailing the opposition Labor Party in opinion polls.
Australia is planning to build and begin operating a fleet of nuclear submarines in the coming decades with the assistance of the U.S. and the U.K., under the landmark Aukus agreement which was signed in September last year. The new defense capacity could allow Australia greater ability to project force throughout the Asia Pacific region.
No decision has been conveyed yet on whether Australia will be using a U.K. or U.S. design for its submarine fleet, or how it will train its navy in the new technology. Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Sunday, Defense Minister Peter Dutton said there would be an announcement on the design “within the next couple of months.”
Morrison said on Monday he didn’t believe the decision would be made before an election due to be held by May 21. “It won’t be done in that time frame,” he said, noting there had been “a lot of progress” made on the design.
Australia already has one submarine base on the country’s west coast, where its aging fleet of Collins-class submarines are based. Morrison said the west coast base will continue to operate even after the new facility is completed.
The initial work on the new facility is expected to be finished by the end of 2023, according to the government.
“There will also be significant benefits for local and national industry in supporting the new base and the more complex and larger nuclear-powered submarine fleet,” Morrison said.
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