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Australia to expand surface combatant fleet

An artist's impression of the future Hunter-class frigate for the Royal Australian Navy. Canberra has announced plans to reduce its procurement of nine of the type to six. (Commonwealth of Australia)

The Australian government has announced a major expansion of the Royal Australian Navy's (RAN's) surface combatant fleet. Under plans announced on 20 February in response to an independent review of RAN surface combatant capability, Defence Minister Richard Marles said the RAN will more than double the size of its warship fleet to meet future strategic challenges.

According to the Australian Department of Defence (DoD), the RAN's future surface combatant fleet will comprise 26 major warships including nine ‘Tier 1' surface combatants – three existing Hobart-class air warfare destroyers with upgraded air-defence and strike capabilities, and six (instead of nine planned) Hunter-class frigates to be built by BAE Systems.

The plans also include the procurement of 17 ‘Tier 2' surface combatants. These comprise up to 11 general-purpose frigates that will provide “maritime and land strike, air-defence and escort capabilities” and six new Large Optionally Crewed Surface Vessels (LOSVs) with 32 vertical launching system cells that will “significantly increase [the RAN's] long-range strike capacity”, the DoD said.

The review said the general-purpose frigates would be acquired through an “offshore then onshore build process, where ships are built overseas before transitioning to an Australian build”. It added that the LOSVs should be acquired through a formal engagement with the US Navy to enable construction at either the Henderson shipyard in Western Australia or overseas. However, the review added, “The intent is to build these six vessels in Western Australia.”

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