|GREG KELTON The Advertiser
August 22, 2009 12:01am
THE U.S. Navy is considering a bid to use a Port Adelaide shipbuilding centre as a repair base for its warships.
The U.S. is in talks with the State Government over the proposal involving the $300 million Techport facility at Osborne.
Australia's new $8 billion air warfare destroyers will be built at Techport, which also will be the construction base for the Royal Australian Navy's next generation of submarines.
Premier Mike Rann and Defence SA chief executive Andrew Fletcher spent most of yesterday at the Pentagon in talks with U.S Government defence officials over the use of Techport, which includes a 213m wharf and the largest shiplift in the southern hemisphere.
"Strategically, there is much more work that can be done at this fantastic brand new state-of-the-art naval shipbuilding facility," Mr Rann said.
"Techport Australia is a safe and secure location to undertake such repairs for naval vessels."
It is understood almost any U.S. warship, except an aircraft carrier, is capable of being repaired at the site. Currently, the U.S. has repair bases in Japan and Singapore.
More than 140 U.S. defence engineering and research experts will visit SA in May next year to examine the Techport facilities.
Mr Fletcher told The Advertiser there was significant interest brewing amongst U.S. defence chiefs and industry leaders in what was occurring in SA.
"We need to do three things in relation to Techport: Make sure everyone over here understands what the opportunities are, that we can handle large ships and that we have a very good U.S. company in SA that can service these ships," he said.
"It only needs some slight political hiccup in the northern Pacific and current repair facilities in Singapore and Japan will look less attractive to the U.S. Navy."
Mr Fletcher said SA would be stepping up its lobbying with the U.S, especially to the admiral in charge of the Pacific Fleet – the U.S. Navy's largest fleet.
Also in Washington, Mr Rann had talks with other defence contractors and officials about future major defence projects to attract more work to South Australia, where $14 billion in defence projects has been secured in the past four years.
He said there was potential for at least another $100 billion in contracts, including a fourth air warfare destroyer ($2 billion), eight Royal Australian Navy frigates ($8 billion) along with the $35 billion for the construction of 12 next-generation submarines.
Mr Rann said that as large U.S. defence contractors like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Electric Boat and Bath Iron Works were operating from Techport, it made sense to have U.S. naval fleets deployed in this region to be serviced in SA rather than returning to the U.S. or Pacific Rim ports.
"The world-class infrastructure has been specifically designed to cater for the 9000-tonne U.S. Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyers," Mr Rann said.
He said construction at Techport was on track and on budget – more than 85 per cent complete – and the shiplift would be available from February 2010.
"No other site in Australia will be able to rival the multitude of high-end, professional naval systems and integration skills which will be based there," Mr Rann said.