Former Australian navy chief says frigate program should be scrapped

Former Australian navy chief says frigate program should be scrapped

A former chief of navy says Australia's troubled $45 billion future frigate program should be scrapped, arguing that British-designed warships won't be powerful enough.

In a new report, retired Vice Admiral David Shackleton suggests that Defence should instead negotiate with the United States on building Arleigh Burke-class destroyers locally, and if that is not possible, to commission the construction of more Hobart-class destroyers.

Four years ago, British company BAE Systems was selected over rival bidders from Spain and Italy to build nine new anti-submarine warfare ASW frigates that would replace Australia's ageing Anzac-class frigates.

The construction of the state-of-art vessels, known as Hunter-class, was scheduled to begin in Adelaide in late 2022, but that milestone has been delayed by at least 18 months.

The Hunter frigate program should be stopped and redirected, Vice Admiral Shackleton writes in a report published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute ASPI The Hunters aren't powerful enough ships for what the Navy needs and won't give the government a range of military options it could need to manage a conflict.

The report notes that in 2016 the future frigate program was estimated at $30 billion, but by 2021 the cost of the warship project had grown to $45.6 billion, and the vessel's displacement had increased from 8,800 to about 10,000 tons.

Vice Admiral Shackleton recommends that an agreement with the US government should be reached to construct nine ships of the USN DDG-51 Flight III destroyer in Australia, incorporating the Australian phased-array radar If negotiations with the US aren't expeditious, a further three or four ships of the Hobart class should be built as soon as possible, using the combat systems and other equipment already being procured for the Hunter class. This week, the ABC revealed that Defence Department secretary Greg Moriarty had been sent to the United Kingdom where he would discuss problems with the delayed Hunter-class program.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton told reporters on Wednesday that his departmental secretary would be having frank discussions with representatives from BAE while in the UK.

In relation to that particular project, we've been very clear with the board, very clear with the CEO, and no doubt that the secretary will be able to engage with his counterparts, he said.

Vice Admiral Shackleton served as Australia's chief of navy between 1999 and 2002, and was a senior defence witness to the Senate inquiry into the children overboard affair.

Military insiders noted that Yorkshire-born Vice Admiral Shackleton has a long association with US warships, having obtained a PhD for a thesis on the impact of the Charles F Adams-class destroyers on the Royal Australian Navy.