Australia to spend billions over the next decade to double the size of navy’s fleet

The Albanese Government has released its blueprint for a larger and more lethal surface combatant fleet for the Royal Australian Navy, more than doubling the size of the surface combatant fleet under the former government’s plan.

Photo: BAE Systems

As disclosed, this follows the Australian Government’s careful consideration of the recommendations of the independent analysis of the surface combatant fleet, commissioned in response to the Defence Strategic Review.

According to government officials, the strategic circumstances require a larger and more lethal surface combatant fleet, complemented by a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine fleet. This fleet will constitute the largest number of surface combatants since WWII.

The independent analysis of the navy’s surface combatant fleet lamented the current surface combatant fleet was the oldest fleet the navy has operated in its history, and emphasised the need for immediate action to boost navy’s air defence, long-range strike, presence and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

In line with independent analysis recommendations, Australian Navy’s future surface combatant fleet will comprise the following:

  • 26 major surface combatants consisting of:
    • Three Hobart-class air warfare destroyers with upgraded air defence and strike capabilities
    • Six Hunter-class frigates to boost Navy’s undersea warfare and strike capabilities
    • 11 new general-purpose frigates to provide maritime and land strike, air defence and escort capabilities
    • Six new large optionally crewed surface vessels (LOSVs) to increase Navy’s long-range strike capacity
    • Six remaining Anzacclass frigates with the two oldest ships to be decommissioned as per their planned service life.

The Government has also accepted the independent analysis’ recommendations to have: 25 minor war vessels to contribute to civil maritime security operations, which includes six offshore patrol vessels (OPVs).

The Hunter-class frigates will be built at the Osborne shipyard in South Australia, and will be followed by the replacement of the Hobart class destroyer. The Hobart destroyers will be upgraded at Osborne with the latest US Navy Aegis combat system.

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The new general-purpose frigate will be accelerated to replace the Anzac class frigates, meaning the Transition Capability Assurance (TransCAP) upgrades are no longer required. These new frigates will be modern, capable and more lethal, requiring smaller crews than the Anzac.

In order to implement the recommendations of the independent analysis, the Albanese Government has committed to funding the planned acquisition and sustainment of the future surface fleet.

This will see the Albanese Government inject an additional $1.7 billion over the Forward Estimates and $11.1 billion over the next decade in Defence for an accelerated delivery of Navy’s future surface combatant fleet and to expand Australia’s shipbuilding industry.

This comes on top of the Albanese Government’s investment of an additional $30.5 billion to Defence’s Integrated Investment Program out to 2032-33.

“The enhanced lethality surface combatant fleet will ensure the Navy is optimised for operations in our current and future environment, underpinned by the meticulous assessment conducted by the Independent Analysis Team,” Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said.

“Australia’s modern society and economy rely on access to the high seas: trade routes for our imports and exports, and the submarine cables for the data which enables our connection to the international economy.”

“This plan ensures Navy’s future fleet can meet our strategic circumstances by delivering a larger and more lethal fleet sooner and secures the future of naval shipbuilding in Australia, supporting 3,700 direct jobs over the next decade and thousands of indirect jobs for decades to come,” Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy stated.