Navy’s surface fleet to more than double with additional $11.1bn added to budget

The navy will be bolstered by an $11.1bn budget boost over the next decade to more than double its fleet of warships from 11 to 26 in a significant overhaul to prepare the most “lethal” force amid the threat of potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific.

Following a sweeping review, Australia will acquire 11 new general purpose frigates – the first to be in service by the end of the decade – and six large “optionally crewed” surface vessels in development with the United States, armed with long-strike missiles to build an “enhanced lethality surface combatant fleet”.

While those vessels do not require a crew, Defence Minister Richard Marles said the navy’s intention was to crew them.

The planned Hunter class frigates fleet to be built in Adelaide will be slashed from nine to six vessels – but will be fully delivered by 2043 – while three Hobart class air warfare destroyers will be upgraded with air defence and long-strike capabilities.

It follows a review of the country’s surface fleet led by retired US vice-admiral William Hilarides, commissioned after last year’s defence strategic review found the military was no longer “fit for purpose” and the navy needed a better combination of warships to build might in a more contested Indo-Pacific.

Mr Marles said the new-look surface fleet would ensure the navy is “optimised for operations in our current and future environment”.

The enhanced fleet will form the “largest fleet that we will have had since the end of the Second World War”, but will cost $54bn over the next 10 years.

As the budget stands, there is $43bn allocated in the defence budget to the service fleet over the next decade, so an additional $11.1bn will be invested, including $1.7bn over the forward estimates.

Mr Marles insisted the plan was “fully funded”.

“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,” Mr Marles said.

“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.”

Meanwhile, Australia’s oldest currently serving warship, HMAS Anzac, will be immediately decommissioned ahead of the gradual replacement of the ageing Anzac-class fleet, with new frigates to be built overseas.

The planned number of Offshore Patrol Vessels being built in WA will be halved to six, and will eventually form part of a planned fleet of 25 minor war vessels.

The government will also consider the eventual replacement for the Hobart-class destroyers “in the context of the 2026 National Defence Strategy”.

The review found in excess of $25 billion in “unfunded promises” in the former government’s acquisition and sustainment plans.

Mr Marles said the rollout of the plan over the next ten years would support more than 3700 direct jobs, and deliver critical infrastructure required at South Australia’s Osborne shipyard, and the Henderson shipbuilding complex in WA.

Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral JMark Hammond, said it was a “serious investment and a serious challenge for our Navy to step up and deliver”.

“This is a real shot in the arm in terms of understanding the important role that the Australian Navy sailors play across the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

“This will be the largest surface combatant force we’ve operated in generations. It will also be, in time, the most lethal.”

Leave a Comment