Australia's largest defense project got under way for the 30-year submarine project.

The Class 214 submarine will have an increased diving depth and an improvement in AIP performance. Australia's largest defense ...

The Class 214 submarine will have an increased diving depth and an improvement in AIP performance.

Australia's largest defense project got under way with the first meeting of government and industry leaders who will look at skills needed for the 30-year submarine project.

The Expert Panel of the Future Submarine Industry Skills Plan has begun consultations with defense manufacturers and educational institutions to identify the country's skills base within the ship construction supply chain as a prelude to tendering and production.

On the Expert Panel are senior executives from Australia's main shipbuilders ASC, Austal, BAE Systems and Forgacs Engineering as well as chief executive officers of major naval systems integration companies -- Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, Thales, Saab Systems and BAE Systems.

Also on the panel are representatives from unions and the government's Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.

Last month the government set aside $214 million for initial studies to determine the country's submarine building capability to construct the 12 ships, none of them to be nuclear.

The government is also looking at land-based test facilities.

"The Future Submarine Project is the biggest and most complex defense project Australia has ever embarked upon," Minister for Defense Materiel Jason Clare said.

"Hundreds of companies and thousands of workers will be required to support the construction of Australia's future submarines. The Industry Skills Plan will establish a road map to build and sustain the skills required to successfully deliver Australia's Future Submarine capability," he said.

The panel's terms of reference means it will be looking at systems design, naval architecture, propulsion and combat system engineering, production engineering, project planning and control, production scheduling, material procurement, risk management, budget control and financial accounting.

Also investigated will be Australia's supply of hard manufacturing and trade skills such as welders, boilermakers and electricians.

The government is considering the purchase of off-the-shelf ships from French builder DCNS, designer of the Scorpion, HD of Germany which builds the Type 212 and Type 214 submarines and from Nirvana in Spain, designer of the S-80 submarine.

In December the Department of Defense issued requests for information to DCNS, HD and Nirvana. It also signed a deal with Babcock for a study into a land-based propulsion test site, a report by Defense.com news Web site said.

But the government, in an effort to keep its six Collins class submarines updated until the new boats arrive, is talking with Swedish ship designer and builder Kockums to study obsolescence issues that may arise.

The Collins class submarines were built in the 1990 and 2000s and decommissioning will start likely by 2025.

Australia first set out its submarine replacement strategy in the 2009 White Paper Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030.

The fleet is being enlarged because of concerns over increases in the naval forces of Australia's Southeast Asian neighbors, in particular China which is in the process of introducing its first aircraft carrier.

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