A recent report warns that Australia may need to reduce its $45 billion project for Hunter-class frigates in order to avoid an excess of ships that are primarily dedicated to anti-submarine warfare.
The Aspi’s report suggests a significant overhaul of the navy’s surface fleet, which includes lowering the number of Hunter-class frigates from nine to six.
Although the government has continuously cautioned about the deteriorating security situation in the region, the report contends that the navy does not have enough resources to sufficiently safeguard Australia’s extensive maritime interests.
The report suggests a general rise in the quantity of armed ships, however, it suggests that maintaining the production of nine Hunter-class frigates would create an imbalanced fleet that heavily prioritizes anti-submarine warfare.
According to Jennifer Parker, a senior advisor at the Australian National University’s National Security College, the author of the report, the Hunter-class frigates are primarily focused on anti-submarine warfare and therefore have a limited number of “vertical launching system” missile cells.
The frigates would have a reduced ability to eliminate enemy aircraft and surface ships. They are currently under construction in Adelaide, but the first one is not projected to be completed until the early 2030s.
Parker suggested reducing the order by three ships and proposed that the remaining vessels be substituted with a versatile frigate or destroyer equipped with greater missile capacity per tonnage.
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The report is not an official policy, but it offers a perspective on the potential trade-offs that the federal government must consider when determining the composition of the navy’s surface fleet.
The government recently received a report examining the size, structure, and makeup of the Navy’s surface combatant fleet. However, their decisions regarding this report are not anticipated until the beginning of next year.
The government tasked a team, headed by retired US Navy Vice Admiral William Hilarides, to provide recommendations for potential modifications to the rest of the navy’s fleet in conjunction with the Aukus nuclear-powered submarine proposal.
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According to the latest Aspi report, Parker stated that obtaining eight nuclear-powered submarines to replace Australia’s current six conventional submarines is crucial, but it does not signify a significant growth or major alteration for the navy.
According to Parker, submarines can greatly affect an opponent’s efforts to gain control of the seas.
Nevertheless, there are constraints. They are unable to fulfill numerous significant naval duties and therefore cannot substitute a sufficiently large fleet of primary surface combatants.
Examining the progress and development of naval forces in our region – including those of our allies and partners – makes this fact evident.
According to the report, the primary strength of the Royal Australian Navy is made up of 11 to 12 large surface ships. Currently, this includes eight Anzac-class frigates and three Hobart-class destroyers, all equipped with abilities for anti-submarine warfare, anti-air warfare, and anti-surface warfare.
According to Parker, Australia should have between 16 and 20 major surface combatants as 11 to 12 is not enough.
She suggested that a reassessment of the navy’s organization should explore “significant alterations, such as re-evaluating the need for a fleet auxiliary, establishing a coastguard, or deploying assets closer to the workforce to accommodate the growth of the fleet.”
According to the report, David Shackleton, the former head of the navy, issued a warning about a decrease in the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) ability to launch missiles. Shackleton stated in a February statement that in 1995, the RAN had 368 missile cells on its main surface ships.
“In 2020, the amount was lowered to 208, resulting in a 43% decrease in firepower. It will require until 2045 for the Navy to reach its 1995 capacity again. After 2050, it will level off at 432, a total increase of 64 cells.”
The Aukus deal will be the main focus of Defence Minister Richard Marles during his upcoming visits to the US and UK this week.
Marles stated that this is a valuable chance to connect with my colleagues from the United States and United Kingdom and continue building on the successful advancements we have achieved in Australia’s procurement of conventional, nuclear-powered submarines.