• Credit: BAE Systems Australia
    Credit: BAE Systems Australia

Publication of a leaked engineering report criticising the anticipated performance of the RAN’s future Hunter-class frigates has drawn swift rebuttals from the Defence Minister, Defence, and the Chief of Navy.

Details of the classified ‘Engineering Team Assessment’ undertaken by Defence in November were published in The Australian on 1 February under the headline “$45bn frigates slow, unsafe”.

According to the newspaper, the assessment says the inclusion of the US Aegis combat system and the Australian-designed CEAFAR2 phased array radar in the UK Type 26 reference design had pushed the space, weight, power and cooling margins of the Hunter-class to its limits, posing “significant potential risk”.

The changes had caused serious design issues that had cascaded through the program, the assessment warned.

It also reportedly criticised slow feedback and “confusing and incoherent” provision of data by shipbuilder BAE Systems Maritime Australia, and said the company’s design process “does not adher to normal system engineering practice”.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton noted that various program concerns had been raised ”but they’re being remediated, they’re being addressed and this is, I suppose, the reality of a shipbuilding program”.

An engineering solution had been crafted relating to the full displacement weight of the Hunter-class, expected to be around 10,000 tonnes against the full displacement weight of the UK ships at about 8,800 tonnes, the Minister said.

“The problem has been identified, it’s been addressed, and we move on”.

Dutton confirmed there would be no fallback to a Plan B. “Late last year we looked at this project in great detail and we decided that we will proceed with it. The relationship with the United Kingdom in incredibly important”.

Separately, Chief of Navy Mike Noonan said he remained “absolutely confident” that the Hunter-class would be world-leading, with state of the art anti-submarine capabilities.

A statement provided to ADM by Defence said it was prudent to identify risks along the Hunter-class design pathway, always working the ‘what ifs’ as the design matured.

“The risks identified as part of the Engineering Team Assessment are part of an internal management tool used to focus the Defence team in managing the design process at a point in time”, the statement said.

“Actions and solutions that address these risks are well underway and form part of the structured design process that will deliver a mature design that meets our requirements in time to start construction of the first ship around mid-2024”.

Despite the furore created by publication of the classified report, BAE Systems Maritime Australia told ADM the company had neither received nor seen a copy of the document.

“Identifying risks is part of a normal design risk management process. All large projects go through an engineering phase to identify and mitigate potential issues and we’re working to deliver the best outcome for our customer”, a spokeperson commented.  


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