An overhaul of the BAE contract has been discussed for months after officials confirmed the frigates, called the Hunter class, would be heavier and slower than expected, a key issue for a vessel intended to hunt submarines.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Tony Dalton said in February that the frigates were a ‘high-risk program’ when asked in Senate estimates about a leaked review from his department that revealed the concerns regarding weight and speed.
Dalton told Senate estimates ‘we have not been asked to consider a Plan B’ but Labor has harshly criticized the frigate program in opposition and must now decide how to respond to delays under former defense minister Peter Dutton.
Defense Minister Richard Marles said on July 6 that the frigates would be the “centrepiece of our surface fleet” and that he would work with BAE to ensure they were delivered.
Defense Industry Minister Pat Conroy last year warned as opposition spokesman that the “mismanagement” of the program was putting Australian security at risk. Both are aware of Navantia’s offer.
Navantia based its proposal on estimates that the first frigate at berth in Glasgow is largely empty, the program is at least four years behind schedule, the first ship may not arrive until 2035 and the last of nine ships will not be not delivered before 2050 .
Martinez, a naval architect who was managing director of Navantia Australia when the company lost the frigate contract to BAE in 2018, said: “Not everything we do is trying to do any harm in any form. to the decision that was made on the frigates.
“But what we are finding is that the program is not going according to the original plan.
“They have blocks, not the complicated ship parts, going on in Glasgow. Nobody builds an empty half – normally the blocks are fully equipped and you start joining them. My analysis is that there is a weight problem with the ship. They are trying to fix it.
Options for Australia include continuing the frigate program or replacing some frigates with Navantia-built destroyers.
The key question is the amount of local construction. The three Navantia destroyers already in service, called the Hobart class, were 60% built in Australia, but the new proposal argues that most construction should be in Spain to save time. The proposal includes an Australian-made option and a “hybrid” with construction in both countries.
When asked why he claimed Navantia could build the destroyers so quickly, Martinez replied, “We know how to build them. The material is the same. The combat system is the same. The critical part here is the complexity of the shipbuilding.
The 48 “cells” of the Hobart-class Vertical Launch System (VLS) are the ships’ main offensive armament, in addition to the eight anti-ship missiles. The three existing ships should be equipped with Tomahawk missiles from Raytheon as part of the AUKUS alliance.
Two defense experts, Paul Greenfield and Jon Stanford, wrote in February that the BAE frigates would not meet Australia’s needs because they were late and undernourished.
“If the necessary design changes prove impossible, the government should act quickly to cancel the Hunter and order more Hobart ships with an updated design,” they wrote.
“If nothing changes, the Navy won’t deploy a single additional VLS cell for another decade.”
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