Australia’s ambitious $45 billion “Frigate of the Future Programme” for anti-submarine warfare has long been plagued with controversy. While the government aggressively defends the project, a flurry of criticism lately from the military and bureaucrats has complicated matters.
In what could be embarrassing, a former head of the Royal Australian Navy has suggested that Australia’s controversial future $45 billion frigate program should be canceled because British-designed warships, called “Hunter-Type”, will not be “powerful enough”.
The Hunter-Type is known to be based on the British Type-26 class destroyer.
In a recent report, retired Vice Admiral David Shackleton recommends that Canberra negotiate with the United States to build Arleigh Burke-class destroyers locally or order the construction of more Hobart-class destroyers if this alternative is not available. is not viable.
Hobart-class destroyers were developed as air warfare destroyers. Even though producing more ships of the same class has been a matter of talk for some time, the Future Frigate program’s Hunter-class frigate has overshadowed all other potential projects in recent years.
These recommendations from the former chief come at a time when the project remains tainted with controversy. Earlier this year, Australia’s top bureaucrats said the Navy’s future $45 billion frigate program could be the Department of Defense’s watch list for troubled programs if he is again delayed.
The Future Frigate program began in 2009 when Gov. Kevin Rudd announced plans “to acquire a fleet of eight new Future Frigates, which will be larger than the Anzac-class ships” with a focus on anti-warfare. -submarine in the White Paper on Defence. .
The Anzac-class frigates were commissioned in the late 1990s and have undergone mid-life upgrades.
Britain’s BAE Systems was chosen from Spanish and Italian bidders four years ago to build nine new anti-submarine warfare (ASW) frigates. The Hunter-class ships were due to be built in Adelaide at the end of 2022, but that date has been pushed back by at least 18 months.
“The Hunter frigate program in its present form should be stopped and redirected,” Vice Admiral Shackleton wrote in a report published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).
“The Hunters aren’t strong enough ships and that won’t give the government the range of military options it might need to manage a conflict.”
The Future Frigate program is one of the biggest milestones in the defense relationship between the UK and Australia, who are also working together under the AUKUS deal with the US to help Canberra build its sub -nuclear sailor. However, the joint project once again ran into difficulties without any substantial progress.
The frigate Hunter touches rough waters
the Hunter-class frigate was to be an Australian variant of the Royal Navy’s Type 26 frigate, intended to enter service in the mid-2020s. The vessel was to have a fully loaded displacement of 8,800 tonnes in length of 150 metres.
The vessel is expected to have a full crew complement of 180 with a sailing speed of over 27 knots.
According to the newly released report, the cost of the future frigate program was initially estimated at $30 billion in 2016, but rose to $45.6 billion in 2021, with the ship’s displacement increasing from 8,800 to over 10,000. tons.
Vice Admiral Shackleton recommended in the report that an “agreement be reached with the United States Government to build in Australia nine ships of the USN DDG-51Flight III destroyer, incorporating the Australian phased array radar”.
“If negotiations with the United States are not speedy, three or four more Hobart-class ships already in service with the RAN should begin construction as soon as possible, using as much as possible the combat systems and other equipment already purchased for the Hunter class.
Vice Admiral Shackleton served as Chief Australian Navy from 1999 to 2002 and had a long association with US warships during his tenure.
The situation caught Australia off guard, which was visible when Defense Department Secretary Greg Moriarty was sent to the UK to discuss concerns with the Hunter Class Program which remains hanging in the balance even at this point.
The government had previously played down the technical shortcomings cited by experts, which is indicative of the importance of this project and military modernization in general in the political context as Australia heads to the polls next month.
Moreover, the modernization of the navy becomes a political imperative in the face of the imminent Chinese threat in the region. With the signing of the new security agreement with the Solomon Islands, Chinese submarines could soon operate near Australia in the Pacific.
Will Australia make a change?
The Hunter-class frigate, a variant of the Royal Navy’s Type-26 fleet is designed for anti-submarine warfare. However, a report presented to the Australian Department of Defense in February this year warned that next-generation anti-submarine warfare vessels manufactured by BAE Systems would be “significantly” slower than expected, operating at a shorter range and leaving vessels exposed to detection.
Australian Defense Minister Dutton had described it as a “low-level” internal assessment while dismissing systemic problems with the project throughout the years of delay.
the Type 26 frigate which the Hunter class is to be based on carries small caliber firearms like the SA80, general purpose machine guns and 9mm cannons for use against surface and airborne targets. These guns, unlike the rest of the ship’s armament systems, are aimed and fired by upper deck gun crews rather than being controlled by radars or computers.
A Sea Ceptor anti-aircraft missile system, five-inch medium-caliber gun, Artisan 997 medium-range radar and towed sonars will also be fitted to the ships. Each frigate would also include a flexible mission bay capable of holding and deploying ships, trucks and containers, as well as a flight deck capable of handling large aircraft.
With the growing threat to Australia’s security in the Pacific region, its military association with the United States and the United Kingdom has steadily grown. As the Future Frigate program stalls, the Australian government is faced with a no-win situation – to close gaps in its security while maintaining military collaboration with a valued partner like the UK.