Defence is looking to build up its skilled workforce to facilitate the AUKUS submarine initiative, with the announcement of 300 scholarships over the next five years to grow Australia’s nuclear science and engineering workforce.
Minister for Defence Peter Dutton announced the new scholarships on Monday, communicating in a media release that it would allow the federal government to build a workforce with the skills to develop advanced technologies to meet the country’s national security needs.
“The delivery of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines will see thousands of jobs created across the country over the next few decades,” Dutton said. “We must ensure our people have the right skills and qualifications to support and deliver this once-in-a-generation endeavour that will bolster our national security and defence.”
The Defence Nuclear Science and Engineering Scholarships will be given to applicants who have demonstrated strong academic results in nuclear science and engineering STEM areas and are interested in a career in the ADF.
The scholarship is open to citizens studying at an undergraduate level, with up to four years in a degree program, which can include Honours or Masters.
Successful applicants will receive $20,000 per annum for up to four years of full-time study, a fellowship program with Defence, a placement during the course of the scholarship, and mentoring with advice on career and study options. Students will be qualified to work across a range of organisations contributing to the nuclear-powered submarine program.
The federal government will also look to increase the number of Australians undertaking Vocational Education and Training Courses, providing additional entry points for those interested in nuclear-related careers.
“This is about developing a high-tech workforce of Australians qualified to steward and deliver this important capability,” Dutton said.
The announcement of the scholarships comes after Australia signed the exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement with the UK and the U.S, which is the first step in Australia being able to access the sensitive and classified naval nuclear propulsion information.
The deal has been estimated to cost around AU$70 billion (US$50 billion), or $116 billion including inflation according to calculations by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The estimate is expected to grow “substantially” once cost drivers become clearer.
“Those [cost drivers] include both the U.S. and UK moving to bigger submarine designs, our choice of build strategy, and the broader support system and infrastructure needed to operate nuclear submarines,” the report said. “To channel Donald Rumsfeld, there are things we know we don’t know, and things we don’t know we don’t know; both will drive up the estimate.”
Currently, Australia, the UK, and the U.S. are working together to uphold freedom and peace in the Indo-Pacific region.
“We are going to stand up for what we believe in and stand with our partners, including the United States, to make sure there is prevailing peace in our region,” Dutton said.