Analysis and Commentary

Bigger fleet, more firepower, jobs for decades – just add dollars!

Analysis and Commentary

By Peter Roberts

It is amazing what a little cold hard cash – an extra $11 billion bringing the total to $38 billion over 10 years to be exact – can do.

The federal government has tried to work wonders by piling the cash into the defence budget to achieve three of what seemed like impossible goals in the shape of the future Royal Australian Navy fleet announced today.

In its response to an analysis of the surface combatant fleet, commissioned in response to the Defence Strategic Review, there are more large frigates and destroyers and new classs of smaller but lethal frigates and large autonomous vessels.

This plus their vastly increased missile launch capability answers persistent calls from the defence lobby for more firepower to counter China.

Then the government offers security for the nation’s two naval shipbuilding centres.

First is the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide where BAE Systems Australia is building six – down from nine – Hunter class frigates to be followed into the 2040s by replacement for Hobart class air warfare destroyers. (Osborne is also be the site for the construction of nuclear powered submarines.)

The second is the Henderson Maritime Precinct in Perth where eight new general purpose frigates and a new class of Six new Large Optionally Crewed Surface Vessels will be constructed. Three general purpose frigates will be built overseas to speed their arrival with the RAN.

So the defence lobby is happy, the unions and state governments are happy – everyone is happy as the fleet expands from 11 to 26 vessels.

Well not exactly, BAE Systems will build fewer Hunters and Lürssen Australia and Civmec will build fewer OPVs.

And as always future plans are subject to schedule slippage and cost overruns, and different decisions yet to be made by future governments.

If recent history is anything to go by these plans will come awry, some of the projects will be added to the projects of concern list, while incoming governments will rejig the whole lot.

Add to that the challenges of building nuclear powered submarines and the future looks as uncertain today as it was yesterday – only the ambition and the cost have increased.

Further reading:
New surface combatant fleet will see $11.1 billion increase to defence spend over next decade

Picture: Civmec/Henderson, WA facilies


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