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Enhanced, expanded fleet to reshape Royal Australian Navy

Defence Minister Richard Marles and Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy have put months of speculation to an end, releasing the government’s response to an independent review into the Royal Australian Navy’s surface fleet.

Defence Minister Richard Marles and Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy have put months of speculation to an end, releasing the government’s response to an independent review into the Royal Australian Navy’s surface fleet.

Defence Connect can confirm that the Royal Australian Navy’s surface fleet is expected to more than double in size following the recommendations of the independent analysis on the surface combatant fleet, commissioned in response to the Defence Strategic Review.

Defence Minister Richard Marles and Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy said the independent analysis of Navy’s surface combatant fleet lamented that the current surface combatant fleet was the oldest fleet Navy which has operated in its history and emphasised the need for immediate action to boost Navy’s air defence, long-range strike, presence, and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

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In recognising this, the Navy’s future surface combatant fleet will be expanded to total 26 major surface combatants consisting of:

  • Three Hobart Class air warfare destroyers with upgraded air defence and strike capabilities.
  • Six Hunter Class frigates to boost Navy’s undersea warfare and strike capabilities.
  • Eleven new general purpose frigates that will provide maritime and land strike, air defence, and escort capabilities.
  • Six new large optionally crewed surface vessels (LOSVs) that will significantly increase Navy’s long-range strike capacity.
  • Six remaining Anzac Class frigates with the two oldest ships to be decommissioned as per their planned service life.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said, “The enhanced lethality surface combatant fleet will ensure the Navy is optimised for operations in our current and future environment, underpinned by the meticulous assessment conducted by the independent analysis team.”

Of note is the reduction of the Hunter Class frigate program, from the initial order of nine to six, with the nation’s Hobart Class destroyers to continue with their planned upgrade process at Osborne in South Australia.

Australia’s new general purpose frigate will be accelerated to replace the Anzac Class frigates, meaning the Transition Capability Assurance (TransCAP) upgrades are no longer required. These new general purpose frigates will be modern, capable and more lethal, requiring smaller crews than the Anzac.

In addition to this, the government accepted that Australia requires a fleet of “25 minor war vessels” to provide civil maritime security operations, which includes six offshore patrol vessels (OPVs).

“Australia’s modern society and economy rely on access to the high seas: trade routes for our imports and exports, and the submarine cables for the data which enables our connection to the international economy," the Deputy Prime Minister said.

Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Mark Hammond AO reinforced these comments, saying, “A strong Australia relies on a strong navy, one that is equipped to conduct diplomacy in our region, deter potential adversaries, and defend our national interests when called. The size, lethality and capabilities of the future surface combatant fleet ensures that our Navy is equipped to meet the evolving strategic challenges of our region.”

This reprioritisation of our surface fleet will have major implications on the Defence budget. In order to meet the requirements, Defence Minister Richard Marles and Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy confirmed that the Albanese government would inject an additional $1.7 billion over the forward estimates and $11.1 billion over the next decade in Defence for an accelerated delivery of Navy’s future surface combatant fleet and to expand Australia’s shipbuilding industry.

Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy said, “This significant advancement in Navy capability that will be delivered under this plan requires a strong, sovereign defence industry.”

This additional $11.1 billion of funding for the future surface fleet alone brings both acquisition and sustainment investment in the fleet to $54.2 billion in total over the next decade.

Minister Conroy added, “This plan ensures Navy’s future fleet can meet our strategic circumstances by delivering a larger and more lethal fleet sooner and secures the future of naval shipbuilding in Australia, supporting 3,700 direct jobs over the next decade and thousands of indirect jobs for decades to come.”

The Albanese government thanked US Navy Vice Admiral (Ret’d)William Hilarides, Rosemary Huxtable, AO, PSM, and Vice Admiral Stuart Mayer, AO, RAN, for their leadership of the independent analysis and contribution to the most comprehensive update to Navy’s fleet in decades.

Stephen Kuper

Stephen Kuper

Steve has an extensive career across government, defence industry and advocacy, having previously worked for cabinet ministers at both Federal and State levels.

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