Navy set for major shake-up, just in a couple of months’ time
The Albanese government has released its long-awaited Defence Strategic Review, with major impacts across the Australian Defence Force, yet Navy is set for another review to shape its future force structure.
As an island nation, Australia’s sovereignty, security, and prosperity is intrinsically linked to our maritime surrounds and the uncontested and unmolested access to the global maritime commons.
Recognising this fundamental strategic and tactical reality, the Albanese government’s Defence Strategic Review has moved to reshape the Royal Australian Navy into a flexible, future-proofed force capable of meeting the tactical and strategic operational requirements placed upon the service by the nation’s policy makers.
At the core of this renewed emphasis, the review states, “Australia’s Navy must be optimised for operating Australia’s immediate region and for the security of our sea lines of communication and maritime trade”.
To this end, the government reinforced its commitment to the SSN0-AUKUS arrangement and its intent to field and build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, however, by far, the most important announcement by the government was the announcement that the Royal Australian Navy’s surface fleet would be undergoing a “short, sharp” review into the constitution of its force structure to support the delivery of “impactful projection”.
The review articulates this as, “An enhanced lethality surface combatant fleet, that complements a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine fleet, is now essential given our changed strategic circumstances.”
Delivering this, the government and the review believes such a force structure should incorporate “Tier 1” and “Tier 2” surface combatants to provide for “increased strike, air defence, presence operations and anti-submarine warfare”.
Going further, the review reinforces this, “Enhancing Navy’s capability in long-range strike (maritime and land), air defence, and anti-submarine warfare requires the acquisition of a contemporary optimal mix of Tier 1 and Tier 2 surface combatants, consistent with a strategy of a larger number of small surface vessels.”
This seemingly indicates an expansion of the Royal Australian Navy’s surface fleet, bulking the fleet out with smaller, corvette style vessels to provide a continuous, regional presence, with vessels that aren’t as focused on high-intensity conflict, but still capable of adding something to any prospective fight.
These “Tier 2” vessels would be complemented by larger, more complex “Tier 1” vessels, similar to the Hobart Class and Hunter Class, respectively — adding to this, the review states: “This would significantly increase Navy’s capability through a greater number of lethal vessels with enhanced long-range strike (maritime and land) and air defence capabilities, together with the ability to provide presence in our northern maritime approaches.”
Expanding on this, the government’s review announces, “We have recommended that the government directs an independent analysis of Navy’s surface combatant fleet capability to ensure the fleet’s size, structure, and composition complement the capabilities provided by the forthcoming conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines.
“The analysis must assess the capability requirements to meet our current strategic circumstances as outlined in this review. This should include assessment of cost, schedule, risk, and the continuous shipbuilding potential of each option. This examination should be completed by the end of Q3 2023,” the review states.