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Australia commits to modern and lethal general purpose frigates

Royal Australian Navy sailors bring HMAS Diamantina alongside Princes Wharf for the Royal Hobart Regatta in Hobart, Tasmania. Photo: ABIS Lucinda Allanson

The Australian federal government has announced the intended acquisition of 11 new general purpose frigates to complement the country’s combat-ready fleet of warships.

The Australian federal government has announced the intended acquisition of 11 new general purpose frigates to complement the country’s combat-ready fleet of warships.

The 11 new general purpose frigates will provide maritime and land strike, air defence and escort capabilities, according to information released by the government in a statement on 20 February.

The new general purpose frigates will be accelerated to replace the Anzac Class frigates commissioned in the 1990s and early 2000s, with planned transition capability assurance upgrades no longer required.

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The new general purpose frigates will be modern, capable and more lethal, requiring smaller crews than the Anzac Class (177 crew members). Eight new general purpose frigates are planned to be built at the Henderson precinct in Western Australia.

Current Anzac Class vessels include HMAS Anzac and sister frigates HMAS Arunta, Ballarat, Parramatta, Perth, Stuart, Toowoomba, and Warramunga.

“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,” according to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles.

“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 Royal Australian Navy must be able to ensure the safety and security of our sea lines of communication and trade routes as they are fundamental to our way of life and our prosperity.”

The first general purpose frigates are expected to enter service with the Royal Australian Navy by the end of the decade, Minister Marles said.

Minister Marles said the first three vessels will be built offshore in the interest of speedy acquisition. Four potential designs are up for evaluation from Spain, Germany, South Korea, and Japan; the design decision will be made next year, he said.

The announcement is part of larger changes recommended by the Australian government’s “Surface Fleet Review” unveiled on 20 February.

Under the plan, the Australian Defence Force’s 26 major surface combatants will consist of three Hobart Class air warfare destroyers with upgraded air defence and strike capabilities, six Hunter Class frigates, the 11 new general purpose frigates, six new large optionally crewed surface vessels, six remaining Anzac Class frigates with the two oldest ships to be decommissioned as per their planned service life, and 25 minor war vessels to contribute to civil maritime security operations, including six offshore patrol vessels.

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

“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 new general purpose frigates will be approximately the same size to 50 per cent bigger than the Anzac Class, with twice as many missiles, Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy said.

The four platforms identified by the independent analysis as exemplars to form the basis of a selection process for this new general purpose frigate include Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems’ Meko A-200 frigate, the Mogami 30FFM Japanese multi-mission stealth frigate, the South Korean Daegu class FFX Batch II and III, or Navantia’s ALFA3000 (Tasman Class Corvette, announced at IndoPac 2023).

Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Mark Hammond said the size, lethality and capabilities of the future surface combatant fleet ensure that the Royal Australian Navy is equipped to meet the evolving strategic challenges of the region.

“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,” he said.

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