18 Mei 2015
HMAS Success conducts a dual replenishment at sea with HMAS Anzac and HMNZS Te Kaha as the ships transit the Mediterranean Sea. (photo : The Australian)
The navy has been stymied over an audacious bid to obtain the most potent warships in the nation’s history, capable of launching almost 100 missiles, because they are too costly.
Navy chiefs have been ordered to scale down their demands that the planned future frigates be a fleet of super warships twice as large and with twice the firepower as the navy’s current Anzac frigates. Navy has been told that its proposed new warships would be too expensive in this era of fiscal restraint and its wishlist pared back despite the growing strategic challenge posed by China’s fast-growing navy.
The argument within Defence over the new frigates comes as planners struggle to juggle budget constraints against strategic priorities before the new defence white paper due for release in October. The white paper will detail the plans for a new fleet of frigates to replace the existing eight Anzac-class frigates, the last of which was built in 2006, and four Adelaide-class frigates from the mid-2020s. These boats will form the heart of the future navy alongside the three new Air Warfare Destroyers, now being built in Adelaide, and up to 12 new planned submarines.
Navy’s operational requirements document for the new frigates, presented to Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson late last month, called for a far more potent and ambitious warship than either the department or the government was expecting.
The Weekend Australian understands the navy wants its new frigates to be rigged with vertical-launch systems capable of firing 96 missiles, including Tomahawk cruise missiles, double the firepower of the new AWDs, which have 48 missile launchers. Navy also wants the new boats to be between 6000 and 8000 tonnes, dwarfing the current 3000-tonne Anzacs, the 4000-tonne Adelaide-class frigates and potentially even the 7000-tonne AWDs.
It calls for the new frigates to be able to operate as a part of a ballistic missile defence system with a futuristic anti-submarine capability and two hangars to store helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Navy argues that such a capability is needed to meet the strategic challenge posed by China’s growing navy and says it is consistent with global trends to have larger and more capable frigates.
Navy wants a one-for-one replacement of the current frigate fleet which would, in effect, deliver a quantum increase in capability. It is understood Mr Richardson rejected navy’s proposal as being too extravagant and costly. He is believed to have instructed navy chiefs to look at smaller, more affordable ships and come back with a more realistic proposal.
Mr Richardson yesterday declined to comment but a Defence source said: “The trouble with navy’s proposal is that they want the Bismarck (the giant World War II German battleship).”
Navy’s top brass has met this week to consider how to respond to Mr Richardson’s directive.
Defence is seeking first-pass approval to conduct a tender process for the new frigates in 2019, with the first ships potentially becoming available in the mid-2020s, when the first of the Anzac class retires.
The government wants to build the new ships in Australia because that will be the only way to guarantee the survival of the naval shipbuilding industry.
To help sustain this ailing industry, the government is considering fast-tracking the new frigates. Last year it committed $78.2 million to bring forward preliminary design work on the project. Even so, this will not avoid naval shipbuilding job losses this year.