BAE Systems Australia has rebuffed recent public scrutiny of the Hunter Class frigate program in a recent statement from maritime managing director Craig Lockhart.
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The Hunter Class frigate program has been the focus of much public scrutiny, particularly around speed and capability, according to a statement from Craig Lockhart published on 27 October.
“This ‘go-to’ narrative far too often comes from those who haven’t visited the shipyard or have the context around the program,” he said.
“While public scrutiny is to be expected, and rightly so, on any program that comes at expense to the taxpayer, I find that Australia is unique in how it publicly debates its defence programs.
“The moniker of ‘troubled’, in particular, has had a huge detrimental impact to the more than 1,600 employees on the program.
“These are dedicated people who are working tirelessly to provide a capability; specifically selected by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), that will provide Australia with a world-leading, highly capable and versatile multi-mission warship.”
The Australian federal government previously signed the contract with ASC Shipbuilding (now known as BAE Systems Maritime Australia) in December 2018 to build the Hunter Class frigates under Project SEA 5000 Phase 1.
The multi-billion-dollar Hunter Class Frigate Program (HCFP) is hoped to provide nine frigates optimised for anti-submarine warfare to replace the Anzac Class frigates based on the UK’s Type 26 Global Combat Ship, modified to meet Australian requirements. It has an initial approved budget of $6 billion for the design activity to incorporate the Australian requirements, to conduct prototyping of ship blocks in the new shipyard under construction at Osborne in South Australia, and to order long-lead items for the first three ships.
“What is often missing from the commentary is that the Hunter has been designed to accommodate emerging technologies or enhance the warfighting effectiveness should there be a greater threat to our strategic environment,” Lockhart said.
“Our engineers have already proven that the Hunter can accommodate greater than 96 vertical launch missile cells, if asked to do so.
“Let me be clear, the Hunter Class Frigate Program is making strong and tangible progress. We are building the world’s most advanced naval shipyard that’s delivering ship blocks that is sector leading in quality, and we are operating digital twin simulations that are attracting the attention of even the US.”
He also expressed confidence in a resilient workforce of more than 1,500 people involved in the program and building ships in South Australia.
“We consistently exceed Australian industry capability requirements and have expressions of interest from more than 1,750 Australian businesses who want to be part of the program,” Lockhart said.
“We have adapted the design to include leading-edge air defence capabilities and the end result is a ship that still performs at the same speed, endurance, and stealth as originally planned, while maintaining the same length and delivering more than what is required through life margins.
“Last week we completed the preliminary design review, which is a technical assessment that ensures the ship design is operationally effective. In May, the team commenced construction on the first schedule protection block. This block will be capable of being used in the first Hunter frigate.
“We are working on a world-class shipbuilding program that delivers the past and current governments’ commitment to continuous naval shipbuilding. We have built something of which all Australians should be proud.”
Lockhart also stated moves to building a different ship overseas will not deliver Australia capability any sooner.
“There are no ‘off-the-shelf’ warships available ready for Australia to purchase. Why would we as Australians, be ready to trade our jobs for overseas jobs?” he said.
“The ‘trouble’ with the Hunter Class Frigate Program is not the program – it is the lack of understanding and celebration of the exceptional work being done by Australians, for Australians.
“I say this as someone who has chosen to live in this great country and who stands proud of what we are doing.”