Retired navy chief says Australia should scrap future $45bn frigate programme, saying warships aren’t powerful enough

A former navy chief has said Australia’s future $45 billion frigate program should be scrapped, saying British-designed warships would not be powerful enough.

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

Four years ago, British firm BAE Systems was selected over rival bidders from Spain and Italy to build nine new anti-submarine warfare (ASW) frigates that would eventually replace Australia’s aging class-class frigates. Anzac.

Construction of the state-of-the-art ships, known as the Hunter class, was due to start in Adelaide at the end of 2022, but that stage has been delayed by at least 18 months.

“The Hunter frigate program in its present form should be stopped and redirected,” writes Vice Admiral Shackleton in a report published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).

“The Hunters are not powerful enough ships for what the Navy needs and will not give the government a range of military options it might 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 risen to $45.6 billion, and the displacement of the ship dropped from 8,800 to around 10,000 tonnes.

Vice Admiral Shackleton recommends: “An agreement should be reached with the US government to build in Australia nine ships of the USN DDG-51Flight III destroyer, incorporating Australian phased array radar”.

“If negotiations with the United States are not speedy, three or four more Hobart-class ships already in service with the RAN should begin construction as soon as possible, using as much as possible the combat systems and other equipment already purchased. for the Hunter class.”

This week, the ABC revealed that Defense Department Secretary Greg Moriarty had been sent to the UK where he would discuss issues with the delayed Hunter-class program.

Peter Dutton says his departmental secretary would have candid discussions with BAE representatives.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Defense Minister Peter Dutton confirmed that his departmental secretary would have candid talks with BAE representatives while in the UK.

“On this particular project, we have been very clear with the board, very clear with the CEO, and there is no doubt that the secretary will be able to dialogue with his counterparts,” he said.

Vice Admiral Shackleton was head of the Australian Navy between 1999 and 2002 and was a key defense witness in the Senate inquiry into the ‘Children Overboard’ case.

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

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