Australia Expands Surface Combatant Fleet

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The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) will be expanding its surface combatant fleet, following an announcement by Australian Minister of Defence Richard Marles on Feb 20. According to the country’s Department of Defence, the future fleet will see a drastic jump from 11 vessels to 26 vessels by the mid-2040s. The plans for expanding the armada came right after an independent analysis of the RAN’s surface combatant capabilities which found that “a larger and more lethal surface combatant fleet, complemented by a conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarine fleet” is needed, citing Australia’s strategic standing. The plan highlighted the aging fleet to be the oldest in RAN history and stressed the imperative need to shore up naval air defences, long-range strike and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities as well as reinforcing their presence.

Of the 26, nine of the warships are “Tier 1” surface vessels comprising three existing Hobart-class air warfare destroyers with upgraded air defences and strike capabilities and six instead of the initial nine Hunter-class frigates from BAE Systems. The Hunter-class ships are to be constructed in South Australia’s Osborne Shipyard. Following that, “Tier 2” will include 11 general-purpose frigates for maritime and land strike, air defence and escort capabilities. Complemented by six new Large Optionally Crewed Surface Vessels (LOSV) that are fitted with 32-cell vertical launching systems (VLS) as well as the AEGIS combat system, the VLS greatly enhances the Navy’s long-range strike capacity.

With an investment of around USD7.1 billion over the coming decades, the government has had to give up several options in order to free up funds for the new fleet. The RAN will retire its two oldest Anzac-class frigates – HMAS Anzac and HMAS Arunta this year and 2026 respectively. With that, the remaining six ships in the class will no longer receive Transcap upgrades, but reportedly an upgrade of unspecified maritime strike capabilities. Also mentioned is the reduction of Hunter-class vessels from nine ships to just six after costs had risen exponentially. – shp/adj/dl (Pix: Royal Australian Navy)