This handout picture taken Feb 11, 2019 and released by the Australian Department of Defense shows Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison, center, shaking hands with Australia's Defense Minister Christopher Pyne, left, and France's Defense Minister Florence Parly after signing a submarine partnership agreement in Canberra, Australia. (JAY CRONAN / AUSTRALIA DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE / AFP)
CANBERRA – The Australian government has signed a key contract with French shipbuilder Naval Group for the nation's Future Submarine program.
The submarines will help protect Australia's security and prosperity for decades to come and also deepen the defense relationship between Australia and France.
Christopher Pyne, Defense Minister, Australia
The A$50-billion (US$35.5 billion) contract will see Naval Group design and build 12 new attack class submarines for the Australian Navy. The first of the submarines will be battle-ready as early as 2034.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defense Minister Christopher Pyne met with French Defense Minister Florence Parly in Canberra on Monday to sign the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) to guide the project. The agreement came almost three years after Naval Group, formerly known as DCNS, was selected to build the submarines.
Pyne, who has repeatedly denied that the project has been set back by protracted SPA negotiations, said that the signing was a "defining moment" for Australia.
"The submarines will help protect Australia's security and prosperity for decades to come and also deepen the defense relationship between Australia and France," he said in a joint media release with Morrison and Defence Industry Minister Steven Ciobo.
"Our government is committed to maximizing local industry involvement in the program to ensure Australians get the most out of this important national investment."
The program has been plagued by controversy since the French company had won the contract despite German and Japanese companies making considerably cheaper bids.
ALSO READ: Australia to spend US$64.9b on ships, subs
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported in December 2018 that Naval Group had made "unprecedented" requests during SPA negotiations, including asking for a 25 percent cost blowout allowance and a two-year extension. Pyne had strenuously rejected the report at the time.
US giant Lockheed Martin has been chosen to design and fit the new fleet's weapon systems.
HONG KONG NEWS