Defence Minister Marise Payne and Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis toured the new $157 million Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) at HMAS Albatross on Friday.
The project, when fully up and running early next year, will provide state of the art training facilities for defence aviators.
"The new Helicopter Aircrew Training System will provide cutting edge, streamlined initial pilot training in a highly realistic environment for navy and army personnel,” Minister Payne said.
Minister Payne and Mrs Sudmalis inspected the development of the facility and tried out one of the three state-of-the art simulators installed in the building, which will eventually become home to 723 Squadron.
As part of the training system, 15 Airbus EC135 helicopters will be based at Nowra, replacing the navy’s Squirrel and army's Kiowa helicopters, which are more than 30 and 40 years old respectively.
The project includes the new training centre with three flight simulators, refurbished hangars and workshops and new living accommodation.
Once operational, the facility will support the training of up to 116 plots, aviation warfare aircrew, sensor operators and instructors per year.
“The system will help prepare navy and army aircrew for conversions to the advanced new generation of helicopter types including the MH-60 Romeo Seahawk, MRH 90 and the Tiger,” Minister Payne said.
“The government is investing more than $500 million to upgrade facilities at HMAS Albatross, including the new Helicopter Aircrew Training System,” Minister Payne said.
“We are ensuring our young aviators have access to the latest training systems. This is a real commitment to the region.”
“This includes new facilities for the Romeo Seahawk valued at $189 million and upgrading what has been politely described as obsolete engineering services and infrastructure right across the base, which is stage three of the Albatross redevelopment valued at $194 million.
“These are real investments that demonstrate our strong commitment as a government to ensuring our young aviators have access to the latest training systems and a real commitment to the region.”
Mrs Sudmalis said the government's investment in Albatross was delivering a welcome economic boost to the area.
"These facilities will not only assist our next generation of army and navy aircrew, but they are helping to secure local jobs," Mrs Sudmalis said.
"More than 1600 defence personnel work at HMAS Albatross and it is great to have an investment this size in the region.
"The men and women who serve our country that operate out of HMAS Albatross call Gilmore home. That in itself is an economic investment.
“This training facility also provides opportunities for up to 380 external contractors to work on world leading projects, it provides learning opportunities for apprentices and trainees.”
Minister Payne also answered questions on investigations into possible contamination of soils at HMAS Albatross and Creswell, from the historic use of fire fighting foams, saying detailed investigations were still underway.
“We expect testing to come to a conclusion about the middle of the year and we will then come back the community with more information,” she said.
“This is an issue, not just for defence, but any airport in Australia or at rural fire fighting location where those aqueous fire fighting foams were used for many years.”
She would not be drawn to comment on an Australian sailor’s alleged involvement with the “Fat Leonard” case in the US where secrets surrounding the US Seventh Fleet were allegedly exchanged in return for sex-fuelled parties and other activities.
“This is an ongoing investigation and I won’t be making any detailed comment,” she said.
“We have been working with the US since the second half of last year and I have been briefed several times.
“It has been referred to the Australian Federal Police.”
Asked about claims Mrs Sudmalis made recently that she had been sexually bullied in an attack by Labor, Mrs Payne said the Australian Parliament was a “robust place”.
“I have been doing this a long time, so has Ann. We have seen interesting characters in the political landscape come and go. We are still here,” she said.