Emmanuel Macron and Malcolm Turnbull have the opportunity to set Australian and French defence industry on a new path that will bring decades of strategic and economic benefit to both our countries.
That opportunity revolves around the direction of the largest project in Australia’s history (whether civil or military)—and the largest, longest export contract that French defence industry has won: the $50 billion (plus) Future Submarine Program (FSM).
Australian debates about this program have been fiery and intense—focusing on whether to build the submarines here or overseas, and arguing about whether a percentage target for Australian content should be set or not.
All that became very emotive, but it missed the larger picture. The strategic industry issue for Prime Minister Turnbull and President Macron is this: ‘Is the submarine cooperation between France and Australia just a very big contract or is it a long-term strategic industrial partnership?’
If it’s a just contract, then Naval Group and Defence will focus on meeting Defence’s Australian industry requirements for this project. Defence has identified two goals for its Australian industry plan—deliver a sovereign capability and maximise Australian industry involvement. That may sound good, but both of those goals focus just on this project and miss the bigger opportunity.
It’s very unlikely that Australian firms will supply many of the big components for any of the 12 submarines—the generators, main motors, weapons handling systems, etc. Maybe batteries will be an exception because our Collins submarines already have Australian-manufactured batteries.
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