Australian Defence Secretary to visit UK to discuss frigate program

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Australian Defence Secretary to visit UK to discuss frigate program

Australia's top defence official is visiting the United Kingdom this week to receive updates on the troubled $45 billion future frigate program and to speak to senior officials about the war in Ukraine as well as the recently announced AUKUS partnership.

The ABC can reveal that Defence Department secretary Greg Moriarty will tour the Scottish shipyards of BAE Systems, the British company that has chosen to design Australia's Hunter-class frigates that will eventually be based on the UK's new Type 26 warship.

In a visit to Glasgow, Mr Moriarty will get an up-close view of HMS Glasgow, the first Type 26 frigate under construction, which bears the name of a previous Royal Navy warship that saw action in the Falklands.

Four years ago, BAE Systems was chosen ahead of rival bids from Spain and Italy to design and produce nine high-tech, anti-submarine warfare frigates for the Royal Australian Navy.

The program has been hampered by technical difficulties and delays.

Defence officials have confirmed to parliament that a system-critical design review of the Hunter-class program originally due to be completed by the end of the year is now scheduled to be completed by the end of 2024 and could be delayed further.

Defence sources say that he is expected to press BAE representatives about problems encountered on the UK's Type 26 program and possible implications for Australia's Hunter-class project during the visit to the UK.

During his UK visit, the Defence boss is expected to discuss joint efforts to back Ukraine against Russia's invasion.

Australia has already offered more than $200 million in military aid, including Bushmaster vehicles.

The secretary is also expected to meet with representatives from other companies that could eventually be involved in the construction of Australia's future nuclear-powered submarine fleet to be acquired under the AUKUS partnership.

He is going to talk about the future of a controversial exchange program involving over 30 ADF personnel who operate armed British drones, an arrangement that is being reviewed after Defence cancelled plans to acquire its own version of the Reaper weapon.

Defence secretary's overseas trip during the election campaign has not yet been publicly disclosed by the Defence Department or government, which is not willing to make a statement.

BAE Systems approached the ABC for comment.