USS Canberra Highlights Australian Investment in Alabama Shipbuilding

Australia Asia

On June 22nd, 2023, during the first day of the Talisman Sabre exercise, the United States Navy expanded as a new vessel, the USS Canberra, was commissioned at the Royal Australian Navy Fleet Base East. This marks the first time a US warship was commissioned in a foreign port. The USS Canberra, hull number LCS-30, carries 50 sailors and is an Independence-class littoral combat ship, one of the navy’s newest vessels designed to operate in littoral, or near-shore waters. The ship can be equipped with interchangeable “mission packages,” allowing it to tackle tasks such as minesweeping, anti-submarine warfare, and maritime interdiction of smaller surface vessels.

The USS Canberra arriving in Sydney Harbor. [Image: Windmemories via Wikimedia Commons]
The USS Canberra arriving in Sydney Harbor. [Image: Windmemories via Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-4.0]

The Canberra is named after a decommissioned Australian vessel. The HMAS Canberra was a heavy cruiser with the Royal Australian Navy during World War II. In 1942, during the Battle of Savo Island, the Canberra was sunk while defending US Marines fighting on the island of Guadalcanal from the Japanese Navy, 84 of her sailors being killed. To honor the Canberra’s sacrifice, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered that the newly built USS Pittsburgh cruiser be renamed the USS Canberra. This ship and its sailors would receive seven battle stars during World War II. In his remarks at the newer USS Canberra’s commissioning, Australian Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Mark Hammond, stated that this was a “unique demonstration of respect by the United States for the Officers and Sailors of the Royal Australian Navy” and an opportunity to “reflect on our shared history, and on a friendship forged while fighting side-by-side.”

The USS Canberra’s shared US-Australian heritage goes beyond just its namesake, as the Canberra’s shipyard in Mobile, Alabama, is operated by Austal USA, a subsidiary of Austal, an Australian shipbuilding company and defense contractor. Austal USA’s shipyard was established in 1999 and, following over $560 million in investment, has expanded to become a 165-acre campus that includes assembly bays, repair facilities, and administrative offices. Austal USA’s growth has passed on to the Mobile community as the shipyard employs over 4,000 people and has created roughly 15,000 direct and indirect jobs. The company was recognized as the Mobile Area Chamber’s 2021 Manufacturer of the Year.

Austal USA has also invested directly in the Mobile community through grants to groups such as the Boys & Girls Club and Mobile County Public School System. Austal also seeks to expand into steel manufacturing, investing $109 million to build a new steel manufacturing line in their shipyard and signing a contract with the steel company SSAB Americas, owned by the Swedish company Svenskt Stål AB, to supply the steel needed to build new ships. Both efforts will create hundreds of jobs, spur economic growth, and ensure that Austal USA can continue to meet the needs of the US Navy.

A Littoral Combat Ship, the USS Coronado (LCS-4) being rolled out of the assembly bay at Austal USA’s shipyard in Mobile, Alabama [Image: US Navy]
A Littoral Combat Ship, the USS Coronado (LCS-4) being rolled out of the assembly bay at Austal USA’s shipyard in Mobile, Alabama [Image: US Navy]

The commissioning of the Canberra, following the finalization of the AUKUS submarine deal, is another sign that the maritime “mateship” between American and Australian sailors is stronger than ever as both countries remain committed to enforcing the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific. In her commissioning ceremony remarks, US Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy stated, “I can think of no better symbol of this shared future than the USS Canberra. Built by American workers at an Australian company in Mobile, Alabama, her crew will always include a Royal Australian Navy sailor, and from today forward, she will proudly display a star-spangled kangaroo.

Varij Shah is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He is an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in International Relations & Global Studies and Government with a specialization in International Security and a regional focus on East Asia.