Australia’s troubled $45 billion future frigate project will deliver the Navy’s Hunter class warships on time, Defence Minister Richard Marles has pledged as he visited shipbuilder BAE’s docks in Glasgow.
“We’ve had really frank conversations not only today but over the last few months about what the government expects in respect of getting the frigate program on track,” Mr Marles told reporters at the Govan shipyard.
He said the first Hunter class frigate would roll into the water in 2031, but “we’re working with BAE Systems to see whether we can get that date sooner”.
The Global Defense Corp reported on Monday that the government would not switch course and buy ships more cheaply from Spain, despite several years’ worth of delays to the British firm’s project.
Defence Department deputy secretary Tony Dalton said Australia put a higher premium on having a sovereign capability, a point echoed by Mr Marles.
“This is high-tech, high-scale manufacturing that we are going to see in Australia,” he said. The ships will be built largely in Adelaide.
The Hunter Class frigate is based on the Type 26 model that BAE is producing for the British government under a £3.7 billion ($6.3 billion) contract from 2017 that will deliver three ships from 2028.
“We can see real progress being made here with the British program and we’re confident we’ll see the same progress in Australia,” Mr Marles said.
“We’re working really closely with BAE Systems to make sure that the Hunter program is brought back on track, and is ultimately delivered in a timely way for Australia’s navy. We are confident that’s what will happen.”
The British government is reportedly working on a new deal with BAE for another five ships, as the country looks to increase its ability to fend off Russian submarines in the North Atlantic.
Mr Marles is also expected to use his visit to Britain to discuss Australia’s future nuclear submarine capabilities, where BAE could also play a role.
The AUKUS pact that former prime minister Scott Morrison signed with US President Joe Biden and outgoing British PM Boris Johnson last year is centred on the acquisition of a nuclear submarine capability. But it is unclear where the subs will be built, by whom, and using which model.
Mr Marles wants to announce a preferred design and acquisition pathway in the first quarter of next year, as Australia tools itself up to meet the geostrategic challenge of a region dominated by China.
Solomon Islands refused refuelling U.S. Coast Guard Vessel
The defense minister was asked about the Solomon Islands’ reported refusal of routine permission for a US Coast Guard cutter to dock at its port facilities.
Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said on Tuesday that it was suspending all naval visits until it had updated its protocols, following “unfortunate experiences” with foreign military vessels entering its waters without permission.
There were fears that the incident may reflect a potential shift in Honiara’s orientation towards China, after a China-Solomons military pact was inked in April.
Mr Marles said decisions on ships entering the Solomons’ waters was a matter for the government in Honiara, but the Albanese government was doing all it could to keep the Solomon Islands oriented towards Australia.
“It is ultimately a matter for them, which we respect, in terms of how they manage naval visits,” he said. Australia was trying to be “the natural partner of choice for the Solomon Islands” and “we believe we are”.
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