Illawarra businesses are not waiting for the government to announce the location of an east coast base for nuclear submarines to prepare for and deliver projects in the defence industry.
Ahead of a defence industry conference to be held in Wollongong on Tuesday, the region's peak business organisation Business Illawarra has released a defence industry strategy, capturing work being done in the region for Australian and international armed forces.
Business Illawarra executive director Adam Zarth said the Illawarra had a large role to play across the Defence portfolio.
"The federal government is significantly increasing the defence budget over the next ten years, and we are one of the regions that can make a greater contribution to the strategic intent of Defence by expanding our role in the nation's defence industry," he said.
Illawarra-based companies such as Bisalloy already provide critical elements to major Defence projects, including high-quality armoured steel used in the Bushmaster armoured vehicle, recently sent to Ukraine.
The Defence Materials Technology Centre, at the University of Wollongong, conducts research into next generation materials that can be used by companies supplying to Defence.
The strategy will drive collaboration between government, industry and the wider community, and Andrew Huckstepp, head of armour and international trade at Bisalloy, said the products Bisalloy supplies to the defence forces were a product of Illawarra ingenuity.
"Bisalloy is proud to supply high-quality armoured steel to our nation's defence industry, and to make that happen we employ a significant number of highly skilled local people, and rely on raw material from BlueScope," He said.
"As a region, I clearly see the opportunity to grow our role in defence but we also need to identify and tackle the challenges we face, and one of those is the need to maintain a local skilled workforce focused on providing best in class products."
While Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the pathway for Australia to acquire nuclear submarines as part of the AUKUS deal last month in San Diego, the Illawarra is no closer to knowing whether Port Kembla will be selected from the shortlist of sites to host the submarines, despite unsourced reports that Port Kembla was the preferred site by Defence.
The first Australian-flagged Virginia-class submarine is not expected to be delivered until the 2030s, and Mr Zarth said there were other opportunities in the meantime.
"When we talk about defence industry development here in our region, we need to emphasise that this is about the growth of high-value, well-paid and long-lasting jobs locally in the short term."
As the region awaits a decision, which is understood not to be delivered before late 2023, Mr Huckstepp said there were significant opportunities for the region in the broader Defence portfolio.
"As Bisalloy has shown, there are great opportunities for local people in defence industry jobs - and a growing domestic and international demand for our products. We need to prepare to seize the opportunity by collaborating, leveraging our strengths and investing to address our shortcomings."