Australia to re-assess surface fleet construct, following strategic review

HMAS Brisbane RPD21
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Hobart-class destroyer HMAS Brisbane (foreground) and Anzac-class frigate HMAS Ballarat are pictured transiting sea lines of communication near Indonesia, during a regional presence deployment in 2021. Following the Defence Strategic Review, the RAN’s surface fleet construct will be re-assessed against requirements to increase offensive lethality in support of Australian national interests. (Copyright: Department of Defence, Commonwealth of Australia)

Australia intends to conduct an independent review of the size, mix, and capability of its naval surface fleet, as part of increasing the overall offensive lethality of the Australian Defence Force. The assessment was announced as a core recommendation within the country’s Defence Strategic Review (DSR), which was published on 24 April.

As regards Australia’s maritime power projection requirements to build in-depth deterrence and defence capability, the DSR stated that the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) “must have enhanced lethality – including through its surface fleet”.

The RAN’s in-service surface escort fleet consists of three Hobart-class guided-missile destroyers (DDGs) and eight MEKO 200 Anzac-class multi-role frigates. It is in the process of building nine Type 26 Hunter-class anti-submarine warfare (ASW) frigates.

Australia is already planning to add offensive strike capability to the DDGs, in the form of the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile for the anti-ship role and the Raytheon Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile for the land-attack role. However, the DSR is clear that the navy must deliver greater-still long-range offensive capability at and from the sea, including to deny an adversary access to key maritime regions (such as Australia’s northern maritime approaches and wider sea lines of communication).

Augmenting surface fleet offensive lethality also will be critical in complementing the conventional lethality that Australia’s new nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), to be delivered under the Australia/UK/US AUKUS programme, will bring.

In its recommendations, the DSR stated “An independent analysis of Navy’s surface combatant fleet capability should be conducted in Q3 2023 to ensure its size, structure, and composition complement the capabilities provided by the forthcoming conventionally-armed [SSNs].” “The analysis must assess: the capability requirements to meet our current strategic circumstances … as well as the cost, schedule, risks, and the continuous shipbuilding potential of each option.”

Giving some context for this review, the DSR stated that the RAN should consider acquiring what it referred to as a “contemporary optional mix” of larger and smaller surface vessels, to generate increased anti-ship and land-attack strike, air-defence, and ASW capability, alongside improved presence.

The DSR noted that the review work should be completed in Q3 2023.

The work, which is already underway, will assess matters of force structure, capability, and scale across the surface fleet including in-service and planned future platforms, Armada International understands.

by Dr. Lee Willett