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


The federal government has committed an extra $11.1 billion over the next decade in its announcement on the future surface combatant fleet, in response to an independent analysis finding “in excess of $25 billion in unfunded promises” and following last year’s Defence Strategic Review.

There will now be six Hunter Class Frigates, down from nine, and a fleet of combat-ready warships eventually growing to a total of 26 in two decades.

According to a statement from deputy prime minister Richard Marles, the government will enter into a build contract for the Hunter class frigates seeing construction start at Osborne in South Australia this year, with the final frigate to be delivered by 2043.

The Hunter class will be immediately followed by construction of a replacement for Navy’s Hobart class destroyers.

Eight new general purpose frigates to be built at the Henderson precinct in Western Australia, and “will also enable a pathway to build six new Large Optionally Crewed Surface Vessels in Western Australia.”

According to an ABC report on the surface combatant fleet, the overhaul will see the current fleet of 11 combat-ready warships growing to 26, with this made up of “nine “Tier 1” frigates and destroyers and 11 smaller general-purpose frigates, as well as six optionally crewed vessels which will form a “Tier 2” force.”

“The LOSVs (large optionally crewed service vessels) are in development with the US and have the capacity to operate in an ‘un-crewed’ fashion but it is the intention of the Royal Australian Navy to crew these vessels,” said Marles.

The general-purpose frigates will be partly built overseas.

“This will be the largest surface combatant force we’ve operated in generations. It will also be, in time, the most lethal,”  said Australian Navy Vice Admiral Mark Hammond.

“After inheriting the oldest surface fleet Navy has operated in its history, this blueprint will see Navy equipped with a major surface combatant fleet over twice as large as planned when we came to government, with more surface combatants in the water sooner,” said Marles.

“The delivery of an enhanced lethality surface combatant fleet and sovereign shipbuilding industry will help secure Australia’s economic prosperity and trade, and help keep Australians safe.” 

The Australian Shipbuilding Federation of Unions (ASFU) welcomed the announcement, which “maps out a continuous naval shipping program that extends into the 2060s”.

It added that there was a strong “need for further detail on what the surface fleet review means for the industry’s future.”

“The ASFU will request the Government reconsider building the first three frigates overseas as we hold grave concerns on what this means for the knowledge and skills transfer into Australian industry and supply chains for the frigates 4 to 11, which are due to be built in Australia,” said ASFU National Convenor Glenn Thompson.

“The ASFU will seek further discussion with the government on these matters.”

Further reading:
Analysis: Bigger fleet, more firepower, jobs for decades – just add dollars!

Picture: credit BAE Systems Australia


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