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Questions emerge over Australia's Hunter-class frigate programme

The ANAO said the country's project to construct Hunter-class frigates – an artist's impression of which is pictured above – faces an 18-month delay, with the first vessel now expected to be delivered in mid-2032 rather than early 2031. (Commonwealth of Australia)

The future of the AUD45 billion (USD30.2 billion) programme to build nine Hunter-class anti-submarine frigates for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) was called into question, with a report by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) warning of further delays and significant cost increases.

The report, released on 10 May, also disclosed that the Department of Defence (DoD) failed to retain key records concerning the inclusion of the ultimately successful BAE Systems' Type 26 frigate in the programme's competitive evaluation activity along with Fincantieri's FREMM multi-purpose frigate and Navantia's modified F-100 Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate.

Records not retained by the DoD included the rationale for the selection by the defence secretary of the Type 26 over DCNS' (now Naval Group) variant of the FREMM as a third option, the ANAO said. The Type 26 was announced as the programme's winner in June 2018.

The DoD had told the government that it had assessed the three tenders against 23 high-level capability requirements and project objectives and that the key differentiator between the tenders related to anti-submarine warfare, the ANAO said. However, it did not include an assessment against the capability requirement relating to the maturity of the ship designs.

The DoD “did not conduct an effective limited tender process for the ship design” and value for money from the three competing designs was not assessed by officials, the audit said.

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