Defence review slashes industry programmes, refocuses procurement

By Peter Roberts

As widely leaked to the media, an independent analysis of Australia’s defence outlook has recommended cancellation and downsizing of a number of Army acquisition programmes in favour of long range strike capabilities and the creation of a Navy equipped with a nuclear powered submarine fleet and the ability to deny the maritime environment to hostile vessels.

The Defence Strategic Review strongly supported the acquisition of nuclear powered submarines and recommended a review of the Navy’s surface combatant fleet capability to ensure its size, structure and composition complement the capabilities of the submarines.

Additionally the purchase of patrol boats, offshore patrol vessels and frigates will be subject to an assessment of their capability
requirements to meet our current strategic circumstances as well as the cost, schedule, risks and the continuous shipbuilding potential of each option.

The review was carried out by former defence minister Stephen Smith and former Chief of the Defence Force, Sir Angus Houston.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Richard Marles said: “The Defence Strategic Review is a clarion call for action in light of our strategic circumstances.

“The Review is clear that we cannot waste any more time when it comes to acquiring critical defence capabilities.”

At this stage the Review did not recommend the much-predicted downsizing of the number of frigates being built in Adelaide – a move which would have exacerbated concerns among local defence suppliers about the uncertainty of the timing of future defence orders.

In other changes recommended by the review:

  • Project LAND 8710 Phases 1-2 for the supply of Army Littoral Manoeuvre Vessels (Landing Craft Medium and Heavy) should be accelerated and expanded
  • Project LAND 8113 Phases 2-4 for Long-Range Fires (HIMARS) and LAND 4100 Phase 2 for Land-Based Maritime Strike assets should be accelerated and expanded
  • Project LAND 400 Phase 3 for Land Combat Vehicle System (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) acquisition should be reduced to 129 vehicles from 450 orders giving a $10 billion budget saving and provide one mechanised battalion
  • And Project LAND 8116 Phase 2 for Protected Mobile Fires (a second regiment of Army self-propelled howitzers) should be immediately cancelled.

Most of this bad news for industry has already been foreshadowed, but the DSR is also revealing new opportunities for industry.

The ability to strike an enemy at a distance is key to the review’s recommendations which suggest the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile should be integrated onto the F-35A and the F/A-18F aircraft with the Joint Strike Missile also integrated onto the F-35A

There is some attention paid to Australian industry and locally systems with the review underlining the need for options to be developed for collaboration and technology sharing with the United States in the development of MQ-28A Ghost Bat jet drone aircraft.

The review also said: “The Government should confirm its commitment to continuous naval shipbuilding through an updated National Naval Shipbuilding Enterprise Strategy and updated supporting Naval Shipbuilding and Sustainment Plan.”

The DSR also said options for the increase of guided weapons and explosive ordnance stocks, including the rapid establishment of domestic manufacturing, should be provided to the Government by Q2 2024.

It also recommended aligning defence innovation spending with the findings of the review team and the upgrading and development of Australia’s northern defence bases.

Shipbuilding facilities also came into question.

The DSR said substantial investment was needed at the Osborne shipyard in Adelaide ‘for any build component of a nuclear-powered submarine’.

“Infrastructure development should commence immediately at the Osborne shipyard to enable the Nuclear-Powered Submarine Pathway.”

Meanwhile the Henderson shipyard in Perth faced ‘significant challenges to give it the requisite critical mass for shipbuilding.

“Under current plans there is simply not enough work to sustain the number of shipbuilders located at Henderson.”

More to come…

Picture: Defence Strategic Review

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