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Right on time: Hunter Class frigate prototyping kickstarts next phase

Right on time: Hunter Class frigate prototyping kickstarts next phase

In a major milestone for Australia’s largest surface shipbuilding program, BAE Systems Australia has announced the beginning of prototyping on the Royal Australian Navy’s multibillion-dollar Hunter Class frigate fleet.

In a major milestone for Australia’s largest surface shipbuilding program, BAE Systems Australia has announced the beginning of prototyping on the Royal Australian Navy’s multibillion-dollar Hunter Class frigate fleet.

At the world-class Osborne shipyard in South Australia, Minister for Finance, senator Simon Birmingham, SA Premier Steven Marshall and BAE Systems Australia chief executive Gabby Costigan were joined by BAE Systems Maritime Australia employees as Australian steel was cut to officially launch the Hunter program’s prototyping phase.

During prototyping, five representative ship blocks will be manufactured and assembled using Australian steel, and the systems, processes, facilities and workforce competencies will be established and tested, providing a solid operational foundation before construction starts on the first Hunter Class frigate in 2022.


The 1,000th employee recently joined the business, and up to 1,000 more people – including apprentices and graduates – will be recruited in 2021 as the program continues to ramp up.

Costigan said, “To start prototyping just two years after the contract to deliver the Hunter program was signed in 2018 is an incredible achievement. The pace of the program has been swift. We have moved into a modern, digitally advanced shipyard, progressed the design of the ship and significantly expanded our workforce.”

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds CSC said this was the culmination of two-and-half years of hard work since the completion of the Competitive Evaluation Process in June 2018.

“As this government has always said, the Hunter Class program is on schedule to meet its milestone of beginning prototyping in 2020 and beginning construction of the first of class by end 2022,” Minister Reynolds said.

“I commend the work of Australian Naval Infrastructure. They built a state-of-the-art digital facility at Osborne Naval Shipyard-South with a $535 million investment from the Morrison government. Now we are building nine of the world’s most advanced anti-submarine warfare frigates for our Navy here in Australia,” Minister Reynolds added.

Minister Birmingham said one of world’s most advanced fleets of warfare frigates was starting to become reality with the first steel being cut for the prototyping phase.

“These frigates will be built from some of the best steel in the world. Over 1,500 tonnes of Australian steel has been contracted for the construction of the Hunter Class Frigate Program,” Minister Birmingham said.

“This is providing enormous opportunities for many Australian businesses while driving job creation, apprenticeships and skills training at a critical time.

“The Morrison government’s record investments in naval shipbuilding will see our Navy equipped with world-class capabilities as well as creating a long-term pipeline of employment opportunities.”

Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price said the official start of the prototyping phase marks the beginning of a decades-long program that will be the cornerstone of continuous naval shipbuilding in Australia.

“Today is not only a celebration of a major milestone for Australian shipbuilding, but also for Australian industry and for Australian workers,” Minister Price said.

“We are not just cutting steel – we are cutting Australian steel, in a yard built by Australian workers, and one supported by Australian industry. This truly world-leading digital shipyard will help our people and Australian industry do their job, raising the capability of Australia’s shipbuilding industry.” 

Minister Price added, “During the modernisation of this shipyard, 66 of 68 subcontracts were awarded to Australian companies. Australian companies have been engaged to provide the steel to construct the blocks, to prepare and paint the blocks for construction, to make the jig wagons that will transport steel around the yard, and to provide non-destructive testing services.”

BAE Systems Maritime Australia managing director Craig Lockhart added, “The next two years of prototyping will be incredibly important as we prove our systems and manufacturing processes ahead of construction starting at the end of 2022. Australian companies will play a significant role in the prototyping phase – the overwhelming majority of the content provided will be from Australian-sourced materials and services.”

Lockhart said, “In parallel, we’re also working with Australian industry and academia to explore and test local technologies that could contribute to the efficiency of the construction phase.”

BAE Systems Maritime Australia will build nine submarine-hunting warships for the Royal Australian Navy over the next three decades using advanced manufacturing technologies that link digital engineer design with automated technologies and digitise work packs for shipbuilders on the ground.

Nearly 1,400 Australian businesses have registered their interest in the program via the online Industry Capability Network.

The Hunter Class frigate is based on the Type 26 Global Combat Ship design, which supports a close partnership between the UK Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Australian Navy, all of whom have selected a variant of the design for their anti-submarine frigate programs, supporting greater operational, training and intelligence ties.

The prototyping phase of the Hunter Class Frigate Program is integral to enabling the delivery of the Hunter Class frigates and leading to a Continuous Naval Shipbuilding industry in Australia.

The prototyping phase of the Hunter Class Frigate Program will run for three years until 2023. The construction phase of the Hunter program is scheduled to commence by end 2022.

The nine Hunter Class frigates will be based on the BAE Systems Type 26 Global Combat Ship currently under construction for the Royal Navy and will replace the eight Anzac Class frigates when they enter service beginning in the late 2020s.

The Hunter Class is billed as an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) centric vessel delivering an advanced ASW capability to the Royal Australian Navy at a time when 50 percent of the world’s submarines will be operating in the Indo-Pacific region.

BAE Systems Australia announced that it had selected Lockheed Martin Australia and Saab Australia as combat systems integration industry partners, responsible for delivering the Australian-designed CEAFAR 2 Active Phased Array Radar, Lockheed Martin-designed Aegis combat management system and Saab Australia 9LV tactical interface.

The $35 billion program sees ASC Shipbuilding become a subsidiary of BAE Systems throughout the build process beginning in 2020 at the Osborne Shipyard in South Australia, creating more than 4,000 jobs.

BAE Systems expects the Australian industry content for the Hunter Class build will be 65-70 per cent, which will create and secure thousands of jobs for decades.

At the end of the program, the Commonwealth will resume complete ownership of ASC Shipbuilding, thereby ensuring the retention in Australia of intellectual property, a highly skilled workforce and the associated equipment.

SEA 5000 is expected to support over 500 Australian businesses who have been pre-qualified to be part of the Hunter Class supply chain, with the Australian steel industry in particular benefiting from the 48,000 tonnes of steel required to build the ships.

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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