Defence firms vie for slice of $35b frigate pie

Detailed planning for Australia’s Hunter Class Frigate Program is well underway, as local companies vie for a slice of the $35 billion project.

Feb 28, 2020, updated Mar 02, 2020
The nine Hunter-class frigates are set to be built in Adelaide. Image: BAE Systems

The nine Hunter-class frigates are set to be built in Adelaide. Image: BAE Systems

Nine anti-submarine warfare frigates will be built by ASC Shipbuilding at the Adelaide’s Osborne Naval Shipyard, in what is being described as the largest surface ship project in Australia’s defence history.

The Osborne shipyard has been the home of the Air Warfare Destroyer project for more than a decade.

That project is nearing completion with the Department of Defence provisionally accepting the third and final destroyer, Sydney, at a ceremony at Osborne on Friday.

Construction of the first frigate test blocks for the project will begin towards the end of this year, with defence companies now being short-listed to carry out part of the work.

Among them is Adelaide defence company AFL services, which has been down-selected for lucrative blast and paint work.

AFL services was one of four Australian companies recently invited to tour global defence company BAE Systems’ world-class shipyards in Scotland to inspect painting processes used on the Type 26 Global Combat Ship.

This is the reference ship design for Hunter class.

“AFL Services has a proud history of working on defence projects, from land vehicles with BAE/Tenix toll defence, and components for Navantia to the Collins Class submarines,” general manager Adam Levi said.

AFL Services now has more than 60 staff and winning a slice of the Frigate work would boost projections.

ASC Shipbuilding won the head contract to provide the design and build framework of the nine anti-submarine warfare frigates that will be replacing the nation’s eight Anzac Class frigates.

ASC Shipbuilding has become a subsidiary of BAE Systems throughout the build process before ownership is returned to the Commonwealth at the completion of the project.

The two-year first building of five test blocks at the world-class shipyard in Osborn is beginning in December, with building of the first frigate expected to commence in 2022.

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“We appreciate that BAE System is embracing Australian industry content and helping small businesses reach their potential to bid for the Hunter Class Frigate Program work,” Levi said.

“Personally being from South Australia, I have set goals to assist industry at Osborne and create flow-on to the schools and the community for years to come.

“The Hunter class project is a national endeavour that will provide many Australian small businesses with unprecedented opportunities.”

Three other Australian companies, Broadspectrum, Eptec Group and Altrad Services–Asia Pacific, are all vying for the work that involves blasting back material of the ship to create the right conditions for painting.

The Hunter program is designed to create a continuous naval shipbuilding endeavour in Australia, creating more than 5000 jobs across BAE Systems and the wider Australian defence supply chain over the life of the decades-long program.

More than 1000 Australian suppliers have registered through the Industry Capability Network Gateway to compete for work on the frigate program, with placing of contracts for the prototyping phase of the project happening throughout 2020 and 2021.

“The prototyping phase is one of the first real chances for Australian industry to be actively involved in the manufacturing phases of the program,” ASC Shipbuilding managing director Craig Lockhart said.

The nine anti-submarine warfare frigates will be built at the ASC shipyard in Osborne using local workers and Australian steel.

The site was also home where six Collins Class submarines were built for the Australian Navy and have undergone ongoing sustainment.

Work on the frigates is expected to create 1000 apprentice and graduate jobs throughout the program’s life, with opportunities for engineers and project managers, specialists in steel work, mechanical, electrical and technical trades.

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