A former chief of navy says Australia’s troubled $45 billion future frigate program should be scrapped, arguing the British-designed warships will not be powerful enough.
- A British company was selected over rival bids to build nine new anti-submarine warfare frigates
- Vice Admiral Shackleton says Australia has chosen a ship “unsuited to its needs”
- He says the vessels “won’t give the government a range of military options it could need for managing a conflict”
In a new report, retired Vice Admiral David Shackleton suggests Defence instead negotiate with the United States on building Arleigh Burke-class destroyers locally, and if that is not possible, to commission the construction of more Hobart-class destroyers.
Four years ago, British company BAE Systems was selected over rival bidders from Spain and Italy to build nine new anti-submarine warfare (ASW) frigates that would eventually replace Australia’s ageing Anzac-class frigates.
Construction of the state-of-the-art vessels, to be known as Hunter-class, was scheduled to begin in Adelaide in late 2022, but that milestone has been delayed by at least 18 months.
“The Hunter frigate program in its current form should be stopped and redirected,” Vice Admiral Shackleton writes in a report published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).
“The Hunters aren’t powerful enough ships for what the Navy needs and won’t give the government a range of military options it could need for managing a conflict.
The report notes that in 2016 the future frigate program was estimated at $30 billion, but by 2021 the cost of the warship project had grown to $45.6 billion, and the vessel’s displacement had increased from 8,800 to about 10,000 tonnes.
Vice Admiral Shackleton recommends: “Agreement should be reached with the US government to construct in Australia nine ships of the USN DDG-51Flight III destroyer, integrating the Australian phased-array radar”.
“If negotiations with the US aren’t expeditious, a further three or four ships of the Hobart class already in service with the RAN should commence construction as soon as possible, using as much as possible of the combat systems and other equipment already being procured for the Hunter class.”
This week the ABC revealed Defence Department secretary Greg Moriarty had been dispatched to the United Kingdom where he would discuss problems with the delayed Hunter-class program.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Defence Minister Peter Dutton confirmed his departmental secretary would be having frank discussions with representatives from BAE while in the UK.
“In relation to that particular project, we’ve been very clear with the board, very clear with the CEO, and no doubt the secretary will be able to engage with his counterparts,” he said.
Vice Admiral Shackleton served as Australia’s chief of navy between 1999 and 2002, and was a senior defence witness to the Senate inquiry into the “children overboard” affair.
Military insiders have noted that Yorkshire-born Vice Admiral Shackleton has a long association with US warships, having obtained a PhD for a thesis on the impact of the Charles F Adams-class destroyers on the Royal Australian Navy.