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‘Optionally crewed’ vessels provide VLS firepower for Tier 1 combatants

Image: Royal Australian Navy

The Commonwealth has announced that it will procure six large optionally crewed surface vessels to increase the Navy’s Tier 1 vertical launching system cell capacity, acquired through a formal engagement with the United States Navy.

The Commonwealth has announced that it will procure six large optionally crewed surface vessels to increase the Navy’s Tier 1 vertical launching system cell capacity, acquired through a formal engagement with the United States Navy.

The new acquisition of six large optionally crewed surface vessels (LOSVs) is hoped to increase the Royal Australian Navy’s long-range strike capability, with the new acquisition announced alongside 11 new Tier 2 general purpose frigates.

The Commonwealth has highlighted that the LOSVs will be built at the Henderson precinct in Western Australia, alongside eight of the new general purpose frigates.

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They will be armed with 32 vertical launching system cells, and use the Aegis Baseline 9 system or later in keeping with the Hunter class and Hobart class destroyers post-upgrade.

The acquisition was prompted by a recommendation within the review that the Royal Australian Navy: "Increase the vertical launching system cell capacity of the Tier 1 surface combatant fleet by acquiring six LOSVs."

It was recommended that the acquisition take part in concert with the United States Navy: "Large Optionally Crewed Surface Vessels (LOSVs) should be acquired through formal engagement with the United States Navy program as a fast follower to enable construction of the LOSVs at either the Henderson shipyard in Western Australia or overseas."

New surface fleet acquisitions announced by the Minister for Defence Richard Marles and Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy will more than double the size of the Royal Australian Navy’s surface combatant fleet from 11 to 26.

The 26 major combatants will also be supported by 25 “minor war vessels” which will include six offshore patrol vessels to support maritime security operations.

To deliver the boost, the Albanese government has pledged an additional $11.1 billion for the “future surface fleet alone” over the coming decade.

The announcement was not without cuts, with the beleaguered Hunter Class frigate program being reduced from nine vessels to six.

It follows an independent analysis of Navy’s surface fleet capabilities that were delivered to the Commonwealth in September. The independent analysis was led by US Navy Vice Admiral (Ret’d) William Hilarides, Rosemary Huxtable, AO, PSM, and Vice Admiral Stuart Mayer, AO, RAN.

According to Labor’s Defence team, the analysis highlighted that the Royal Australian Navy was operating the oldest fleet in the service’s history, and pressed the need for more air defence, long-range strike, presence and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

The acquisition of the 11 new general purpose frigates is expected to be expedited, removing the need for the Anzac Class to undergo the transition capability assurance upgrades.

In announcing the program, the government addressed concerns over continued workforce shortages as identified in last year’s Defence Strategic Review, noting that the new general purpose frigates will require smaller crews.

Australia’s increased surface fleet will protect Australia’s vital trade routes and lines of communication which underpin our way of life, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles explained.

“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,” the Minister for Defence said.

“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.”

Vice Admiral Mark Hammond, Chief of Navy, noted that the review will enable them to protect Australia.

“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,” VADM Hammond said.

“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.”

Liam Garman

Liam Garman

Editor – Defence and Security, Momentum Media

Liam began his career as a speech writer at New South Wales Parliament before working for world leading campaigns and research agencies in Sydney and Auckland. Throughout his career, Liam has managed and executed international media and communications campaigns spanning politics, business, industrial relations and infrastructure. He’s since shifted his attention to researching and writing extensively on geopolitics and defence. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Sydney and a Masters in Strategy and Security with Excellence from UNSW Canberra, with a thesis on post-truth, postmodernism and disinformation operations.
 
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