The minister for defense, Sen. John Faulkner, called for a request for tender to complete a domestic design study for the Future Submarine Project, named SEA 1000.
Making the announcement, Faulkner said the competition is for the government to get a more detailed understanding of what domestic design and build capabilities Australia has to offer when it comes to letting out contracts for the main work.
"The procurement of Australia's future submarine will be Australia's largest ever single defense project and will form a critical part of the nation's future defense force," said Faulkner.
"Investigations by the Future Submarine Project Office to date have covered a number of diverse areas aimed at developing an understanding of the capability of the international submarine industry.
"This RFT adds to these preliminary investigations by examining Australia's design capabilities, and forms part of a program of studies being undertaken to support the planning of Australia's future submarines as outlined in the defense white paper."
The 2009 document, published in May, noted that the six Collins-class submarines in service with the Royal Australian Navy will be replaced by 12 conventional submarines around 2025. The new boats will have a greater range.
Collins-class boats were built by ASC, formerly the Australian Submarine Corp., between 1996 and 2003. They replaced six Oberon-class boats commissioned between 1967 and 1978.
The diesel-electric Collins-class boats are 78 meters long with a diameter of 8 meters and a displacement of 3,000 tons. They have a crew of 42 and normally carry Mk48 heavyweight torpedoes and sub-harpoon missiles. The ships have six forward torpedo tubes and carry up 22 torpedoes or anti-ship missiles, or up to 44 mines instead of torpedoes.
ASC is a wholly government-owned defense company headquartered at Osborne in Adelaide, South Australia. It was contacted to design and manufacture the Collins-class boats in 1987 and today maintains the six submarines for their operational lifespans under a $3 billion contract.
In 2005 ASC was selected by the government, ahead of two other bidders, as the preferred shipbuilder for three new AEGIS-based Australian air warfare destroyers under the Sea 4000 project. The AWDs are scheduled for service introduction in 2013.
Despite the pedigree of ASC and its research business Deep Blue Tech set up in 2007, analysts have said that it is not a certain deal for the company to be designer or builder of future submarines.
Earlier this year senior navy officials and procurement managers visited submarine manufacturers in the United States and Europe on a fact-finding trip, the Defense Ministry said.
The government wants to start detailed design of the first boat by 2013.
Australia's first submarines, two boats, were commissioned in 1914 and saw action during World War I in the Mediterranean Sea. Both were lost during combat, and one was the first submarine to break through Turkish defenses before sinking in April 1915.