USS North Carolina
HMAS Stirling, Perth, Australia
August 5, 2023
- Australian Ambassador to the United States Kevin Rudd
- Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead, Director General, Australian Submarine Agency
- Mr Abe Denmark, Senior Advisor (AUKUS) to the U.S. Secretary of Defense
- Rear Admiral Chris Cavanaugh, Commander, U.S. Navy Submarine Group 7
- Rear Admiral Simon Asquith, UK Royal Navy Director Submarines
- Consul General Siriana Nair, U.S. Consulate General Perth
- Hon. Paul Papalia, Western Australian Minister for Defence Industry
- Commander Tad Robbins, USS North Carolina Commanding Officer
VICE ADMIRAL MEAD: Good afternoon everyone. Before I start, on behalf of everyone present today I would like to pay tribute to the four soldiers involved in helicopter accident last week during exercise Talisman Sabre. I salute their service. Their sacrifices will not be forgotten. And I express my sincere sorrows to the family at this very difficult period.
It is wonderful to be here in Western Australia, HMAS Stirling, the home of the Australian submarine fleet. This base along with the Henderson precinct, the communities of Rockingham and Kwinana and others will play a central role in Australia acquiring conventionally-powered armed, nuclear powered submarines. And the first part of this program is increased port visits from the U.S. and UK submarines. We see a clear manifest demonstration of that today with USS North Carolina here and I welcome the Commanding Officer Commander Tad Robbins here and the officers and sailors of that submarine. I wish them a very enjoyable port visit. This pathway would not be possible without the support of our partners. I thank them for their commitment. I thank them for helping deliver this game changing capability for Australia. Thank you.
MR DENMARK: Good afternoon. First, I want to express my condolences to the loved ones and comrades of the Australians that we recently lost. Our militaries have worked together for decades around the world. And now we join you in grief and remembrance for those that we lost. AUKUS will bring us together further still and I’m delighted to be here together to participate in this event marking the first time that a U.S. conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarine will be visiting HMAS Stirling since the President and the two Prime Ministers announced the optimal pathway for AUKUS Pillar One in March of this year.
North Carolina’s presence at HMAS Stirling is an example of our full participation and support for the AUKUS partnership starting with the planned increase in our SSN visits to Australia in 2023. These port visits are an essential step for Australia to build the necessary operational capabilities and skills to steward and operate its own fleet of nuclear-powered, conventionally-armed submarines and serve to deepen the longstanding security and defence partnerships between the United States and Australia to support a free, open and stable and secure Indo-Pacific. I want to thank the many leaders of the federal, state and local level here in Australia and in the United Kingdom that have worked so hard to make this event and AUKUS more generally possible. I want to thank the members of this community here in Western Australia. You’ve demonstrated incredible hospitality, and we’re very thankful for your partnership and support.
I also want to acknowledge and thank Vice Admiral Mead and Ambassador Rudd for their friendship and partnership throughout this entire process. And finally, I want to acknowledge the crew of the USS North Carolina for coming here and making this event possible. They work hard. Their sacrifices are known by everybody, and we’re incredibly thankful for their service and dedication to this important mission. Thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR RUDD: Good afternoon, everybody. It’s great to be back in Western Australia, great to be back in Perth, great to be back here in Rockingham and at HMAS Stirling. I’ve been here many times over the years. I remember, in fact, in an earlier capacity, convening a Cabinet meeting on this very base. I’d like to begin by welcoming our American visitors. Abe Denmark is a huge friend of Australia. He is the senior AUKUS Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Secretary Austin. He has been an enormous support of the AUKUS project in Washington within the administration, and as the AUKUS legislation works its way through the United States Congress. So, Abe, great to have you here in WA.
Secondly, I’d like also to welcome our friends from the USS North Carolina. Welcome on land. I imagine you’ve been at sea for some time. This proud city has been the host of so many U.S. naval visits, including submarine visits, including nuclear-powered boats, over many, many decades. And here in WA and here in Australia, you should always know that you’re among friends. Not just allies, but among friends. And to our friends who are visiting also from the Royal Navy, equally welcome. Good to have you among us.
Recently in Brisbane, we convened the AUSMIN talks, the Australia-U.S. Ministerial talks involving the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Defence Minister Richard Marles. That meeting, which I was able to attend as Australia’s Ambassador of the United States reaffirmed the centrality of the Australia-U.S. alliance, reaffirmed within that alliance the new centrality of AUKUS. This is about enhancing the capabilities, the sovereign capabilities of the Royal Australian Navy through the development, build, acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines for the first time for the Royal Australian Navy. The Australian Government is committed to a policy of deterrence. The assets you currently see here at HMAS Stirling, including the Collins class boats, are part of our deterrence effort. The new acquisitions which are coming under this program will add to that deterrence effort in order to maintain strategic equilibrium across the Indo-Pacific region.
The final point I’d make here in Perth is that this project, this world class project as it unfolds, will have enormous implications, have an enormous positive impact for the Australian economy. Including the economy of Western Australia and including the economy of this region. As we see all the support services which will now need to be deployed to give effect to this project over time. New jobs, new industries, new opportunities, which presently we are not even aware of. And so, for the future, I would simply say to our friends and colleagues in the WA State Government, including our friend and colleague here, the WA Minister responsible for Defence Industries, that this is an exciting period of new opportunities for the west as we continue to grow the economy of this dynamic region. Thank you very much.
REAR ADMIRAL ASQUITH: So, thank you to Vice Admiral Mead, Abe Denmark and Ambassador Rudd for your comments and to our Australian hosts for the warmth of the welcome that we always receive here in Western Australia. So, I’m delighted to be here today for the visit of the USS North Carolina as part of the AUKUS partnership. Today’s visit I see as a clear demonstration of the remarkable progress made so far by our three nations on this journey to bring Australia their own sovereign SSN capability.
As the first visit of an SSN since the announcement of the optimal pathway to deliver SSN AUKUS, the UK welcomes this opportunity for all three nations to mark the beginning of this phased approach to growing Australia’s ability to sustain an SSN. The Royal Navy looks forward to conducting similar port visits over the coming decade alongside our U.S. Navy and Royal Australian Navy counterparts, as we have done in the past. Indeed, HMS Astute, as part of her Indo-Pacific deployment, in 2021, used the existing Royal Australian Navy maintenance support facilities here at RMAs HMAS Stirling. And we look forward to doing this again to assist in developing Australian SSN expertise. I look forward to making these visits more routine and to the continued close working relationship of our three navies. Thank you.
REAR ADMIRAL CAVANAUGH: Thank you for having us here today. Good afternoon and I thank all of you for coming. I’m honoured to participate in this, the first Virginia class submarine port visit to Australia since the AUKUS agreement was announced in March. Thank you for hosting North Carolina aboard HMAS Stirling in the beautiful city of Perth. As the U.S. Navy’s Undersea Warfare Commander for the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, I see the strength of our U.S.-Australian alliance every day. We train together, we sail together and we learn from each other with the shared objective of a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific. North Carolina’s recent bilateral operations and this very port visit are just two examples among many of this collaboration. AUKUS to me is a logical extension of that interoperability. I’m incredibly proud of the sailors of North Carolina. Their readiness is the foundation of our combined deterrence. I’m excited for you to be able to meet some of them this week, and I’m thrilled that they get to experience what is probably the most sought after port visit for any deployed U.S. submarine in the Indo-Pacific. Thank you.
CONSUL GENERAL NAIR: Hello, everybody. I’m Siriana Nair. I am the U.S. Consul General here in Western Australia. I want to extend the warmest welcome to the USS North Carolina and its crew. Australia and Western Australia specifically have a strong tradition of welcoming us sailors to our shores, and submarine visits like this symbolize the immense trust and friendship between our countries. This will continue to grow under AUKUS, which is underway now and it’s very exciting to be here at this historic opportunity.
The North Carolina will welcome their Australian Navy colleagues on board growing both professional knowledge and personal connections. Our sailors will also contribute to the local community through volunteering, sightseeing and enjoying Perth’s great hospitality venues. I know the crew is going to have a fantastic time here. And I thank WA, Australia and the United Kingdom for being such excellent partners. Thank you.
MINISTER PAPALIA: Thanks Siri. Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Paul Papalia. I’m the State Minister for Defence Industry. The Deputy Prime Minister calls Western Australia the nation’s strategic frontier. This presence of this submarine here today and the growing AUKUS presence confirm that status. Western Australia is also the home of Australia’s submariners and submarines and we look forward to becoming the adopted home for our American and British allies in the near future. The Western Australian defense industry has a huge task in front of it, in the very near future, developing ourselves, building our capability from supporting conventional submarines to being able to support nuclear submarine presence through Submarine Rotational Force-West and we look forward to that challenge but we also look forward to the opportunity it presents in terms of acquiring an entirely new skill set, growing a new technology, high technology sector and creating many jobs and opportunities for Western Australians. Finally, I’d like to also join in welcoming the USS North Carolina and her submariners and I look forward to them getting out and contributing to the state’s economy in the very near future. [laughter]
COMMANDER ROBBINS: Thank you, Minister Papalia. We are certainly lucky to be here. I first want to thank Captain Burleigh and HMAS Stirling for being such gracious and oh so welcoming hosts. On behalf of the men and women of the USS North Carolina, it is truly an exciting time for us to be here to celebrate the longstanding alliance with Australia and with the UK. I tell you, it’s not lost on us the importance of having such allies in this theater and also friends. We look forward to our visit here, and we look forward to the continued partnership and alliance in the near future. And we look forward to sailing with all. Thank you.
REPORTER: My name’s Rebecca, I’m from Seven Network Australia. Do you have any fun and interesting statistics about the sub? How long is it, how many people are on it? How fast can it go?
COMMANDER ROBBINS: Oh, absolutely. So one thing I forgot to offer is from the crew, aloha! We are from Hawaii so I want to wish a warm aloha to everyone here. So our crew is comprised of 130 men and women. The ship you see behind you is about 360-feet long. We can go in excess of 20 knots, to answer your question about speed. Interesting fact we do represent almost every nation or every state in the United States. So a very diverse and capable crew. And I think you’ll be excited once you get to meet them. There’s nothing that they can’t do together.
REPORTER: So is the idea that Australian Navy personnel will learn skills and expertise from the U.S.?
COMMANDER ROBBINS: We’ve had a longstanding alliance where that’s already been in place. So we’ve been working with the Australians and the UK for a long time, sharing both tactics and capabilities for a long time. So that’s nothing new to this to the organization.
REPORTER: How does that path change under the AUKUS deal?
COMMANDER ROBBINS: I’ll defer that to Admiral Cavanaugh. I’ll be happy to talk tactics and capabilities, but for that I’ll pass it over to Admiral Cavanaugh.
REAR ADMIRAL CAVANAUGH: So it will grow, in short. We have already done that exchange of sonar expertise, electronic warfare expertise. We have deployed with one another in small groups. But as we start to embark on AUKUS, as you’re seeing, we’ve increased port visits here and then I envision a much broader exchange program. Most of the tactical operations of the ship are very similar but the propulsion plan is much different.
REPORTER: How long is the North Carolina here for?
REAR ADMIRAL CAVANAUGH: I can’t talk about the details of the submarine operation.
REPORTER: What have you been doing in weeks prior to arriving here?
REAR ADMIRAL CAVANAUGH: North Carolina has been participating in Talisman Sabre.
REPORTER: And prior to that? [inaudible]
REAR ADMIRAL CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I can’t talk too much about operations again. North Carolina is based in Hawaii and they’ll do rotational deployments to the Western Pacific here. And this exercise was part of that, and this port visit is part of that.
REPORTER: How long does it take to get here from Hawaii?
REAR ADMIRAL CAVANAUGH: Several weeks. [laughter]
REPORTER: We had an LA-class here a couple of months ago. This vessel is slightly different in its construction, I understand, modular, is that right?
REAR ADMIRAL CAVANAUGH: It is. The way it is constructed is, sort of, two parts and two different shipyards and then those are combined alternating at those shipyards on the east coast of the United States. There are certainly many similarities with the Los Angeles class but the Virginia classes is our newer technology. We went from Los Angeles-class to the Seawolf-class to the Virginia-class.
REPORTER: Can I just clarify, and apologies for the naivety, is this the first time Australia has had a visit from a Virginia sub, or just since the AUKUS deal?
VICE ADMIRAL MEAD: So, Australia has hosted about 280 nuclear-powered ships and submarines in the past 60 years, many of them from our AUKUS partners but some from other nations and we intend to obviously leverage off that experience, leverage off that impeccable safety record as we go forward to develop our own sovereign capability.
REPORTER: So this is the first sub visit since the announcement?
VICE ADMIRAL MEAD: Since the announcement, yes it is, since March. Correct. And as the Deputy Prime Minister the Prime Minister announced, part of the first phase of AUKUS is increased port visits from U.S. and UK submarines. And North Carolina is a clear manifestation of the progress that we’re making in that pathway.
REPORTER: [Inaudible] will we see the visits? What were they like before and what will they be like now?
VICE ADMIRAL MEAD: So I won’t get into the actual rhythm because that becomes operational but it’ll certainly be an increased flow of submarines that’ll be coming to Australia. And then by 2027, we would look to be forward operating up to four U.S. and one United Kingdom submarine from this very base.
REPORTER: Mr Denmark?
MR DENMARK: I have nothing to add. I think you did a great job. [laughter]
REPORTER: Just more broadly about the AUKUS deal, are you able to talk about the significance of it under the Biden Administration in terms of keeping things stable in the Indo-Pacific?
MR DENMARK: Sure. AUKUS is a generational opportunity for the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. And pillar one is the first major initiative under AUKUS in which we’ll be providing Australia, will be helping Australia acquire a conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability. And it’s a game changer in terms of deepening our alliance and in terms of enhancing the trilateral military capabilities that we’ll be able to bring into the Indo-Pacific to maintain stability in the region.
REPORTER: Is there any nerves or concern that if Trump or the Republicans get back into play that they will try and squash the deal?
MR DENMARK: I can’t think about these, I can’t comment on hypotheticals. I think what I’ve seen in terms of my engagements, our engagements on Capitol Hill has been broad bipartisan, bicameral support. So, as we’ve seen in Australia, I fully expect that AUKUS is going to live for decades across different administrations as these, as U.S. governments [inaudible].
REPORTER: Why is there an increasing need for robust military alignment between Australia and the U.S.? What’s the threat?
MR DENMARK: I’d say the U.S.-Australia alliance is much – is not AUKUS. AUKUS is a piece of a much broader regional piece. And I’d point you to the National Defense Strategy, the National Security Strategy, which talks about this as a decisive decade. And so a key strength of American power is our alliances and our partnerships. And so, AUKUS, I see is really deepening those critical relationships during this decisive decade.
REPORTER: Mr Rudd?
AMBASSADOR RUDD: I feel as if I’m walking the chopping block, but go on.
REPORTER: When this submarine deal was announced, it was heavily criticized by a former Australian prime minister who said that it was the worst deal ever. How do you feel about the billions of dollars being spent on these submarines?
AMBASSADOR RUDD: Oh, I think it’s the best deal ever.
AMBASSADOR RUDD: You see, as Abe Denmark has just said, this is a generational opportunity to step up the capabilities of the Royal Australian Navy and the sovereign capabilities of Australia in a highly uncertain period strategically for our country and for our allies. Therefore we need as a country to constantly review the capabilities we need to do that. The next step for our Navy was to acquire this capability. That’s why it’s enjoyed bipartisan support in this country. And, to reinforce what Abe Denmark just said, it is why we see such a high level of bipartisan by-in from Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate in the United States. So therefore, it is important for our sovereign capabilities in a highly uncertain, strategic period which is the decade which lies ahead and the decades which lie ahead of us.
REPORTER: Mr. Rudd, may I ask you a question please?
AMBASSADOR RUDD: Maybe.
REPORTER: Your thoughts on the strategic importance of Western Australia from your perspective and your interactions with people in the U.S, one and two, your thoughts on the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean, which is frequently discussed now from Western Australian defense [inaudible]?
AMBASSADOR RUDD: It was more than a decade ago that the then Australian Government referred for the first time to the centrality of the Indo-Pacific, not the Asia Pacific, for the Indo-Pacific. The term Asia Pacific actually went over previous decades. But Indo-Pacific embraces the fact that this country is a two-ocean country. If you include the Southern Ocean, it’s a three ocean country. If you’re serious about this country’s maritime trade, if you’re serious about this country’s national sovereignty, its territorial integrity and ensuring that we exercise sovereignty over our vast exclusive economic zone, then you require naval capability, both for the Pacific but also for the Indian Ocean as well.
So that’s why over some decades, successive Australian Governments have enhanced Fleet Based East and Fleet Base West. And that’s why we’ve seen the development of this great facility HMAS Stirling over such a long period of time. And furthermore, because we are active both on our Pacific front here, and our Indian Ocean front here, we are able to operate closely with our partners, allies and friends in the wider region. Final point I’d make as well is that Australia is now a member of the Quad. Australia has an increasingly close relationship strategically with India. You would have seen the Indian Prime Minister’s recent visit to Australia where he was welcomed as a friend of the country. I was pleased to be in Washington recently when he was welcomed in similar terms to the White House, State Department and by the American people. So part of our future lies with India. Last time I looked it’s the same India, which we’ve named the Indian Ocean, it’s kind of just over there. So therefore, having an active presence here and growing presence in Western Australia makes strategic sense for the government of Australia, makes strategic sense for our allies, and our partners and our friends like those in New Delhi to ensure that we maintain strict strategic equilibrium, because that strategic equilibrium is what underpins our ability to ensure a safe, secure and prosperous Indo Pacific region.
REPORTER: Minister, could you please detail a bit more about how an increase in these port visits impact WA’s economy? How many jobs are we expecting?
MINISTER PAPALIA: I think the big deal is that we are the submarine base for Australia. We’re going to be effectively an adopted home for our U.S. and British allies on a regular basis. We have to build the ability to sustain and maintain these submarines and we’ve got to do it really quickly. AUKUS means that British, well American firstly, and then British submarines will be coming here far more frequently. We have to assist in maintaining them when they’re alongside. They’ll increasingly be doing maintenance sustainment type activities here and we, our defense industry, has to support that. That means we’ve got to build our skill sets. We’ve got to get our people certified and cleared. If there’s any infrastructure requirements beyond Garden Island that need to be enhanced to achieve that, then we will do it and there’s a lot to be done in a short period of time. And it means jobs and opportunity for people in Western Australia.
REPORTER: Some of the details about how long it’s staying, how often, that’s all classified, understandably but does the Minister get informed about that sort of stuff? How classified is it? Are you told about when the next one’s coming?
MINISTER PAPALIA: I’m not a Federal minister, I’m the lowly State Minister so I just get told what I need to be told. What we will do – and we’ve committed – once the federal government made a decision to embark upon AUKUS and adopt nuclear submarine or acquire nuclear submarines technology capability, we’re fully behind ensuring that we deliver on that national endeavour and the state will do what it needs to do.
REPORTER: The Greens tried to make it a local issue in the Rockingham by-election about nuclear submarines coming here and they didn’t seem to poll too many votes. Is that an endorsement that –
MINISTER PAPALIA: Look, it’s a good thing that we’re getting – we’re acquiring nuclear submarine capability from a defense perspective. A Virginia-class is a beast, it is the apex predator of the ocean. And Australia is going to have that capability and that’s a good thing.
REPORTER: The protestors involved in the Woodside incident this week say they’ve been targeted by counterterrorism police [inaudible].
MINISTER PAPALIA: Pardon? What was the last bit sorry, I heard the first bit?
REPORTER: So they’ve been targeted by counterterrorism police officers. Are police treating the group as terrorists?
MINISTER PAPALIA: What they’re doing is, is treating a threat appropriately. The people you’re referring to have demonstrated a willingness to disrupt industrial activity to actually impose themselves in people’s private residences and threaten and scare and create fear in their family. And that’s not acceptable.