Australia needs ‘off the shelf’ warships fast: Marles

Australia's fleet of naval warships will shrink, before being more than doubled to 26.

Australia's fleet of naval warships will shrink, before being more than doubled to 26. Photo: AAP

Australia’s navy needs an “off the shelf option” to get warships into the water as quickly as possible, Richard Marles says.

The defence minister on Tuesday announced an $11 billion overhaul of the nation’s warship fleet which will increase from 11 to 26 over the coming decades.

Marles dismissed concerns Australia would have an issue acquiring new ships because of its history of cancelling and slashing projects.

“I’m pretty confident that there will be countries out there bidding very hard to get our work and that is already happening as we speak as you could imagine,” he told ABC’s RN on Wednesday.

“We need to get an off the shelf option into the water as quickly as humanly possible and that is exactly what we are doing.”

Former navy commander Jennifer Parker said feasibility was a key element, with the nation unable to afford another ship building program that didn’t deliver.

The government will accelerate the acquisition of new general-purpose frigates, with the first of 11 to arrive by the end of the decade.

The first three will be made overseas so they are in the water faster and the rest will be constructed in Perth.

However, there will be a short term “period of vulnerability” when the navy’s surface fleet gets smaller, with one ANZAC-class frigate set to come out of service this year and a second to be mothballed in 2026.

“That is a risk call … probably based on what they know now in terms of the chances of a conflict in the region,” Parker said.

But shifting the focus of previous governments from only building ships in Australia would allow firepower to be boosted sooner, she added.

“It’s good to see the three frigates being built overseas to allow time to build up our industry,” Parker said.

The government is mulling designs from Spain, Germany, Japan and South Korea for the new general-purpose frigates with the final decision to be made next year.

South Korea’s industry would be one of the more competitive, Ms Parker said, but finding a shipyard that could construct what Australia needed would always be a challenge.

The new fleet would become the most lethal in Australia’s history, Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Mark Hammond said.

But there were major flaws in the plan, including workforce levels and a capability gap when the Anzacs come out of the water, according to opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie.

“There is no plan on how we will meet personnel targets, let alone crew an expanded surface fleet,” he said.

Vice Admiral Hammond said he was confident the navy would be able to meet its recruitment targets despite struggling in the past as the number of people leaving had started to curtail.


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