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Federal government unveils strategic partnership for new Army landing craft

Birdon proposed Littoral Manoeuvre Vessel – Medium (LVM-M) offered under the LAND8710 Phase 1A RAFT. Photo: Birdon.

The Australian federal government has unveiled its new strategic partnership to deliver the Australian Army’s Landing Craft Medium and Heavy (Littoral Manoeuvre Vessels) under the Commonwealth’s LAND 8710 project.

The Australian federal government has unveiled its new strategic partnership to deliver the Australian Army’s Landing Craft Medium and Heavy (Littoral Manoeuvre Vessels) under the Commonwealth’s LAND 8710 project.

NSW shipbuilder Birdon Group has been selected as the preferred designer for the Landing Craft Medium capability, while Austal will build the Australian Army’s Landing Craft Medium and Heavy (Littoral Manoeuvre Vessels) at Henderson Shipyard in Western Australia, subject to successful commercial negotiations and ongoing performance.

Subject to the Landing Craft Medium project’s performance, the government also intends to build the Landing Craft Heavy capability through the strategic partnership.

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Defence and Austal will enter into a heads of agreement, which will set out the principles and framework that govern this enduring partnership and commence negotiations for a strategic shipbuilder agreement.

Austal will also deliver two new Evolved Cape Class patrol boats for the Royal Australian Navy at an acquisition cost of $157.1 million to replace and enhance the Royal Australian Navy’s at-sea navigation and seamanship training capability.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said the federal government is securing national shipbuilding capability and investing in Western Australian defence industry through the new strategic partnership.

“The Albanese government is getting on with the job of delivering the world class, sovereign capabilities our Defence Force needs to keep Australia safe and secure,” he said.

“This significant reform will see Henderson become one of Australia’s biggest and most efficient naval shipbuilding complexes that has the capacity and capability to meet the evolving needs of our Defence Force.

“By securing the future of continuous naval shipbuilding at Henderson, industry will have the certainty it needs to invest in the local workforce and contribute to the West Australian economy for decades to come.”

The partnership has reportedly resulted from Defence Strategic Review observations that there was not enough work to sustain the number of shipbuilders located at Henderson, and government agreement to examine industry consolidation options as a matter of priority.

The initiative will deliver a secure pipeline of work at Henderson, providing industry with greater certainty and helping to secure long-term skilled jobs, infrastructure investment and productivity in the local economy, according to Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy.

“This partnership represents a new approach to Australian shipbuilding and reflects the Albanese government’s steadfast commitment to delivering a future made in Australia,” he said.

“A continuous pipeline of work and an efficient, streamlined approach will not only benefit the delivery of Defence capability but create industry confidence to invest in a highly capable shipbuilding workforce in Western Australia.

“Australian industry can compete with the best in the world, but for too long has suffered the boom bust cycle of shipbuilding, undermining productivity and workforce retention. This ends with this strategic partnership.”

Western Australian Minister for Defence Industry Paul Papalia said the move has provided WA with a voice on the national defence industry stage.

“Continuous naval shipbuilding in Western Australia is something we have fought for since 2017,” he said.

“Western Australia is now recognised as being a key contributor to the nation’s defence strategy.

“The Cook Labor government will continue its efforts to diversify WA, grow the economy and build a more resilient, sustainable state.”

Austal announced on November 23 that they had signed a Heads of Agreement with the Commonwealth of Australia to establish a Strategic Shipbuilding Agreement and have the company act as the Commonwealth’s strategic shipbuilder at Henderson, Western Australia. Under the agreement, Austal and the Commonwealth have committed to working towards concluding the formal Strategic Shipbuilding Agreement by the last quarter of CY2024.

“Austal has a proud record of delivering fit-for-purpose naval vessels to the CoA. In the past five years alone, we have completed and delivered 24 vessels for the Australia Government and Navy, plus a variety of other vessels for navies around the world,” said Austal chief executive officer Paddy Gregg.

“That track record, which is a product of our exceptional design and construction teams, provides Austal with the confidence that we can collaborate with the Commonwealth to transition the Heads of Agreement into a SSA which benefits the naval industrial base in Australia and Australia’s security.

“The Defence Strategic Review provided an important blueprint to establish Henderson as a strategic shipbuilding hub. This SSA Heads of Agreement with the Commonwealth is the first step to enliven that blueprint and further develop a world-class, sovereign naval shipbuilding hub that has the capacity and capability to deliver capability faster, meeting the evolving needs of the Australian Defence Force.”

The company will build the two new 58 metre aluminium monohull Cape Class vessels for Australia in addition to 18 vessels previously ordered by the Commonwealth. That award of the contract is subject to the finalisation of contractual and commercial details.

“The additional two vessels are a timely boost for the company’s Australian workforce and should provide an important element of a continuous shipbuilding program in Henderson. This will assist Austal in retaining its highly specialised workforce employment stability while adding to the capability of Australia’s surface fleet,” Mr Gregg said.

In a public statement on November 23, maritime engineering company, Birdon welcomed its announcement as preferred designer for the Landing Craft Medium capability.

“We're proud that our Landing Craft Medium design has been selected for the next phase of securing Australia’s sovereign shipbuilding capability. We look forward to working with the Commonwealth and Austal to deliver this capability to the Army,” according to Birdon defence general manager Joe Smith.

The Landing Craft Medium will provide independent shore-to-shore and ship-to-shore capability to enable movement and sustainment of the amphibious Joint Force over extended ranges in the restricted littoral and riverine environments.

In addition, the vessel will also be interoperable with the Royal Australian Navy Landing Helicopter Dock and Landing Ship Dock.

“As an Australian-owned private firm with a global reach, we deeply value and advocate for the pivotal contributions of businesses within Australia's manufacturing and supply landscape. Birdon’s Landing Craft Medium design is integrating a high level of Australian Industry Capability,” according to Birdon chief executive officer Jamie Bruce.

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