Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is promising to bring forward a project to replace two defence supply ships to ensure continuity of work in the naval shipbuilding industry.

"This is an extraordinary day for how we make sure that we have viable defence manufacturing in Australia's future," Mr Rudd told workers at BAE Systems yard at Williamstown in Melbourne.

He was also there last week promising to deal with a looming "valley of death" in the defence shipbuilding industry.

That's what the workers call a looming gap in work which was set to dry up by 2015, raising the prospect they would be laid off, then rehired a few years down the track for new shipbuilding projects.

"We understand your concerns about this gap," Mr Rudd told them on Thursday.

He said Labor would deal with it by bringing forward its plan to replace the navy's supply ships, HMAS Success and HMAS Sirius.

Labor would also "as a minimum, commit to a hybrid build for one of these navy supply vessels with construction to commence in 2015-16."

"The valley of death will be crossed and crossed well," Mr Rudd said.

He said it would ensure Australia maintains a world-class naval shipbuilding industry and would support skilled jobs as the economy transitions beyond the mining boom.

Mr Rudd said the acquisition of the two supply vessels was already funded at $1.5 billion.

It was not clear what the cost of bringing the project forward would be.

HMAS Success is an ageing 18,000 tonne French-designed oil tanker and supply ship constructed in Sydney and launched in 1984.

HMAS Sirius started out as a commercial tanker, MT Delos, constructed in South Korea, launched in 2004 and commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy in 2006.

The 2013 Defence White Paper, released in May, said both would be replaced "at the first possible opportunity".

Replacement options include local build, hybrid build (part construction overseas and part domestically) and overseas build, or the leasing of an existing vessel.

 

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