Australia could benefit from shorter warship service life, study suggests

Reducing the service life of major Royal Australian Navy ships from 30 to 20 years could prove beneficial both for the navy and the Australian shipbuilding industry, a study carried out by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) suggests.

The study was done in light of current Australian Navy shipbuilding plans with the acquisition of Future Frigates and submarines ahead.

Authors of the study suggested that shortening the service life from 30 to 20 years could be more in line with the Australian government’s goals of establishing a continuous shipbuilding enterprise.

According to the study, the costs of operating warships during both a 20-year and a 30-year time span were similar for the navy’s current destroyers, frigates and submarines. So rather than focusing on cost savings, the study suggests that a 20-year service life could provide more options when it comes to the upkeep of ships’ capabilities and having a shipbuilding industry ready to accelerate warship construction should need arise.

The study noted that the current Australian start-stop approach to ship acquisition with a 30-year service made the planing of upgrades more complicated than it would have likely been under a continuous design and construction program.

The study used the U.S. Navy destroyer program to illustrate the options a continuous shipbuilding program could provide noting how the U.S. destroyers have demonstrated they could retain operational capabilities for what will likely be a 60-year time frame if the Flight III destroyers are built.

“The conclusion that can be drawn is that a continuous design and construction approach enables flexible replacement and upgrade options that might otherwise be unavailable. Either an upgrade or a replacement approach —or both—can be chosen, depending on the considerations of the day, whether they be strategic, fiscal or otherwise,” the study said.