There are growing doubts within Defence and among industry figures about the ambitious goal to start “cutting steel” on Australia’s Future Frigates Fleet within three years, but the Government is remaining confident construction will begin in 2020.
“When it’s finished we’ll have the most modern anti-submarine warfare destroyers in the world,” Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said.
Three international shipbuilders are competing for the $35 billion project, which the Minister has hinted could be awarded within a few months in order for construction to begin by 2020.
Spanish shipbuilder Navantia is offering an evolved version of the Hobart-class destroyer, Italy’s Fincantieri warship would require some local modifications and the United Kingdom’s BAE is proposing its cutting-edge Type 26 design frigate, which is yet to be built.
“The anticipated timeframe for the announcements around the Future Frigates was (the) second quarter of 2018, I’m very confident that we’ll be able to bring that forward and there will be earlier decisions — but I’d rather under-promise and over-deliver the time,” Mr Pyne said.
“What I’m trying to do as Defence Industry Minister is reduce as many of the lead times as possible, to give the successful tenderer as much time as possible to prepare to cut steel in 2020 and I think that can be done and Defence is working very well with me to make that happen”.
However senior officials within the Defence department, and numerous industry figures, have told the ABC they are concerned the push to start “cutting steel” on the complex warships will be too tight.
Leading Defence expert Andrew Davies from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute shares the concerns.
“The history of complex projects shows that the more mature the design is, the higher the percentage of drawings you have finalised and signed off before you start, the better the outcome is. And I worry a little bit that we’re going to have to rush,” Mr Davies said.
“That timeframe looks a little bit too tight for comfort.
The SEA 5000 project will also involve the selection of a cutting-edge combat management system, which will need to incorporate the government-mandated and locally-manufactured CEA radar.
The two companies selected to compete are SAAB Australia, which is offering the locally-developed 9LV combat management system that has already been integrated with the CEA radar, and American giant Lockheed Martin which is proposing its Aegis system.
Before a final ship design is announced, a decision on the combat management system will be made, but the Defence Industry Minister is giving no hints on a preferred option.
“We have great capability in Australia, there’s no doubt about that. There’s also great capability in the United States and where the United States has the best capability, the best value for money and proven Australian Industry Content (AIC), well they should be just as competitive as anybody else in the world,” Mr Pyne said.