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Top 5 for 2019: Defence Connect’s best Maritime domain stories

2019 was a big year for Defence and defence industry, with major projects kicking off across the three branches. In this top five, we will cover the most popular Maritime domain stories of the year.

2019 was a big year for Defence and defence industry, with major projects kicking off across the three branches. In this top five, we will cover the most popular Maritime domain stories of the year.

It has been a massive year for the Royal Australian Navy, which has seen major progress across the acquisition cycle including on some of Australia's largest Defence projects, with the $35 billion SEA 5000 Hunter Class frigates and $80 billion SEA 1000 Attack Class submarines.

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The RAN has taken delivery of the NUSHIP Sydney, the last of the Hobart Class air warfare destroyers – meanwhile, on the operational front the RAN has been met with continuing success in the Middle East running counter narcotics operations. 

HMAS Brisbane successfully completed combat system trials off the west coast of the US, while the Navy also celebrated the successful launch of the fleet's future at-sea-replenishment vessels, NUSHIP Supply and NUSHIP Stalwart.

One thing is for sure, 2020 is shaping up to be a bigger year for the RAN as it prepares for prototyping for the first Hunter Class vessel and continued progress on the Attack Class submarine program. 

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1. The carrier question and Australia’s options

As Korea, Japan, China and India continue to invest in aircraft carriers to enhance their maritime security and power projection capabilities – the question remains, should Australia reintroduce a fixed-wing naval aviation capability and what options are available should the nation choose to participate in the regional carrier race?

Driving this change is an unprecedented period of Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea and the growing capabilities of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), which has seen the Chinese fielding or preparing to field a range of power projection capabilities, including aircraft carriers and supporting strike groups, fifth-generation combat aircraft, modernised land forces, area-access denial and strategic nuclear forces, combined with growing political and financial influence throughout the region.

Japan has closely followed the modernisation of the Chinese armed forces and raised concerns about the nation’s defence capabilities. 

As part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's commitment towards shifting the paradigm following continued Chinese naval build up – particularly the growing capabilities of China's aircraft carrier and amphibious warfare ship fleets – Japan has initiated a range of modernisation and structural refits for the Izumo Class vessels to develop small aircraft carriers.

Developing a blue water navy has been a major focus of Korea's response to the mounting capabilities of North Korea and China's continued assertiveness in the South and East China Seas.

The centrepiece of Korea's transition towards a blue water capable navy is the Dokdo Class vessels, which are slightly smaller than the Royal Australian Navy's Canberra Class amphibious warfare ships. 

The notion of Australia acquiring a third, F-35B dedicated Canberra Class LHD has been discussed at great length by both strategic policy analysts and politicians since the RAN acquired the vessels.

Currently, the HMA Ships Canberra and Adelaide lack a number of structural and technical modifications that would enable the ships to safely and effectively operate the aircraft and any third vessel would need to incorporate the modifications from the keel up, in a similar manner to the Turkish Navy's recently launched TCG Anadolu (based on the Canberra/Juan Carlos Class vessels).

The Italian Navy, like it's Spanish, American and British counterparts, operates a specialised, small-aircraft carrier designed to accommodate fixed-wing naval aviation capabilities – the Fincantieri aircraft carrier Cavour and the recently launched Trieste fulfil the aircraft carrier role. 

Japan recently announced that it would begin the refit of the Izumo Class vessels to reintroduce an integrated fixed-wing naval aviation capability to the JMSDF. 

Izumo and her sister ship Kaga are capable of supporting airwings of 28 aircraft, with capacity for about 10 'B' variant of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, with both 27,000-tonne vessels capable of supporting 400 marines.

2. US Navy prepares to welcome latest next-generation aircraft carrier 

It will bear the name of one of America’s most beloved presidents and, when launched, the future USS John F Kennedy will serve its nation as one of the key strategic power projection platforms for adversaries and allies alike, rebuffing critics and reaffirming that the aircraft carrier is here to stay.

The US Navy, the world's largest single operator of advanced aircraft carriers remains committed to the symbols of industrial might, national prestige and uncompromising tactical and strategic dominance – the US Navy's newest addition, the second of the Gerald R Ford Class of nuclear-powered supercarriers, the USS John F Kennedy is preparing to join the fleet. 

Like it's namesake, the USS John F Kennedy is billed as the next-generation of leadership, with the 100,000-ton behemoth powered by two advanced, A1B nuclear reactors supporting a top speed in excess of 30 knots – ensuring that whenever and wherever called upon the Kennedy will be ready to project American military presence and dominance. 

The Kennedy reflects the US Navy's insistence on maintaining a fleet of large, advanced, nuclear-powered vessels as the centrepiece of the US Navy, incorporating next-generation technologies ranging from unmanned aerial platforms, through to advanced sensor suites, the Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter and the yet to be determined Next Generation Air Dominance fighter to replace the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. 

Kennedy and its sister-ships, which will replace the venerable Nimitz Class vessels, will continue to serve as the backbone of the US Navy, operating in conjunction with similar allied platforms including the Royal Navy's Queen Elizabeth Class, South Korea's modernised Dokdo and follow on class of large carriers, Japan's evolved Izumo Class vessels, which will follow the established precedent of the US Navy and its carrier strike groups. 

3. 2019 promises to be a big year for Navy

As an island nation, the Royal Australian Navy is always busy and 2019 started with positive note with HMAS Ballarat interdicting 3.1 tonnes of hashish in the Middle East, followed by highly successful participation as part of the multi-national Intrepid Sentinel maritime warfare and anti-submarine warfare exercise. 

Navy’s Patrol Boats remained stalwart over the Christmas period, patrolling Australia’s northern maritime borders, and HMAS Huon returned home in mid-January following a four-month north-east Asian deployment.

Most Fleet units are now diligently working to ensure ships, systems and personnel are ready for the busy program of deployments, exercises and activities that lie ahead in 2019. 

With the support of Sea Training Group, unit readiness evaluations and training are being conducted to ensure the Fleet is prepared for the full spectrum of maritime operations and activities that lay before it.

2019 also saw the launch of the third and final Hobart Class air warfare destroyer, the future HMAS Sydney and further major project milestones for the Arafura Class OPVs, Hunter Class frigates and Attack Class submarine projects representing almost $90 billion worth of naval modernisation and expansion as part of the government's $200 billion, 20-year defence modernisation and capability expansion program announced in the 2016 Defence White Paper (DWP)

Navy's increased capability and platform readiness is supported by uniformed personnel, Defence civilians and contractors working at Fleet Headquarters, Sea Training Group and in other support organisations based at Fleet Base East will continue working diligently to ensure the Fleet meets all the milestones set for it in 2019. 

4. BAE Systems Australia appoints new shipbuilding managing director

BAE Systems Australia officially confirmed a new managing director for ASC Shipbuilding as progress on the $35 billion Hunter Class future frigate program surges ahead.

BAE Systems Australia appointed Craig Lockhart to the position of managing director of ASC Shipbuilding.

As a subsidiary of BAE Systems, ASC Shipbuilding is responsible for the delivery of the Hunter Class frigate program that will design and build the new frigates for the Royal Australian Navy and contribute towards a sovereign naval shipbuilding capability for the nation.

Lockhart will commence in the role on 3 June 2019 and report to BAE Systems chief executive Gabby Costigan. He comes to the company with extensive defence experience spanning three decades, most recently as the managing director of naval marine for Babcock in the UK.

Costigan said, "Craig brings a hands-on, detailed understanding of the Australian and UK defence industries and business networks. Coupled with his leadership capabilities and proven track record in leading large scale, diverse defence businesses, Craig is ideally suited to significantly grow and lead the team that will deliver the Hunter Class Frigate Program. I am truly delighted to announce Craig’s appointment, and welcome him back to Australia."

Lockhart will take over from Nigel Stewart, who successfully led the SEA 5000 campaign that saw the company selected to deliver the $35 billion program for the nine anti-submarine frigates for RAN.

Through BAE Systems, the ASC Shipbuilding workforce is now responsible for delivering the Hobart Class air warfare destroyer program, the Arafura Class offshore patrol vessel program and the Hunter program.

Prototyping on the Hunter program is expected to start in 2020, and construction on the first ship work will begin within 24 months of prototyping commencing.

The Hunter program alone is expected to create and sustain more than 5,000 jobs across BAE Systems and the wider Australian defence supply chain over the life of the program. In 2028, at the peak of the build, modelling predicts the program will contribute just under $1 billion in GDP to the Australian economy.

5. Navy achieves replenishment-at-sea milestone

On her way home to Fleet Base West from the warmer climes of the south-west Pacific, HMAS Sirius rendezvoused with east coast-based HMA Ships Hobart and Choules in the waters off Jervis Bay for a replenishment at sea.

A key milestone was achieved for Choules as she conducted her first ever replenishment with Sirius, an activity that supported her Unit Readiness Evaluation (URE).

It was the second time that Sirius had conducted a replenishment with ‘the Green Ghost’ (HMAS Hobart), whose speed and manoeuvrability was on display during the evolution.

Lieutenant Robert Swift, the Deputy Maritime Logistics Officer in Choules, was excited by the opportunity to conduct the replenishment during the ship’s URE.

"It was a fantastic opportunity and such a huge milestone for Choules and Sirius. Having Sea Training Group embarked was highly beneficial to us all," LT Swift said.

In addition to transferring fuel, the replenishment provided the Maritime Logistics departments on all three ships with an opportunity to exercise ‘materiel screens’, with an item of supply transferred from Hobart, through Sirius to Choules.

The port visits conducted by HMAS Choules are part of the 'Pacific Step-up' strategy, which incorporates a number of different focuses, ranging from economic and infrastructure development, combined with a renewed Australian strategic and defence commitment to the broader Pacific region, which were outlined by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as part of the 2018 APEC leadership conference in Port Moresby. 

Top 5 for 2019: Defence Connect’s best Maritime domain stories
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