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Defence urged to speed up boat building

Australia needs to build more air warfare destroyers to bridge the gap in its lagging naval defence strategy, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

The naval strategy – which is currently tilted towards the acquisition of new nuclear-powered submarines – leaves Australia exposed in the short to medium term, says Marcus Hellyer, a senior defence analyst at the think tank.

He says building a second batch of Hobart-class air warfare destroyers will bolster the Navy’s fleet and provide jobs to Australians facing unemployment following the cancellation of the French submarine deal.

“We’ve already been through the pains and challenges of getting the design right and learning how to build them,” Dr Hellyer said.

Delays in the Hunter-class frigate programs mean the first ship will not arrive until around 2033 and could be outgunned as soon as it hits the water.

Comparatively, a second batch of three Hobart-class destroyers may be operational before the first Hunter is delivered.

The first Hobart-class could be delivered “well before the end of the decade”.

At the earliest, the new nuclear-propelled submarines will be delivered by the end of the next decade but this may also stretch out into the 2040s.

Only lightly armed offshore patrol vessels are due to join Australia’s fleet by the mid-2030s, creating an “urgent need” for more firepower before the heavier boats are delivered, Dr Hellyer says.

“If the National Naval Shipbuilding Enterprise can’t deliver meaningful capability well before 2030, then its entire purpose needs to be reconsidered.

“The Navy needs combat power … (and) to deliver that, we need to rebuild the shipbuilding plan.”

Reducing the focus on trying to make every boat a jack of all trades will also help reduce the costs and complexities of operating and building the vessels.

“Not every (boat) needs to be able to do every task and defeat every threat by itself,” Dr Hellyer said.

“Breaking this mindset opens new possibilities.”

This includes arming the offshore patrol vessels with missile and autonomous systems to deal with air, surface and undersea threats.

Greater investments in “smart and cheap” autonomous technologies were also flagged as a way to bolster defence capabilities.

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