Construction of the air warfare destroyer at ASC Adelaide. Photo: Ben Rushton
Defence Minister Stephen Smith says Australia is still keeping its options open on whether it will purchase a fourth air warfare destroyer to bolster the country’s maritime defences.
Mr Smith made the comment while visiting the BAE Systems Williamstown shipyard in Melbourne, where work is being undertaken on hull blocks for the first three air warfare destroyers as part of an $8 billion project.
“The government hasn’t yet conducted that consideration, but that’s something we will give consideration to in due course,” Mr Smith told reporters.
The proposal to build a fourth ship has long been pushed by defence industry to help it retain skilled workers until work ramps up on the next generation submarine to replace the Collins.
The $8 billion air warfare destroyer project was launched in 2007, when the Coalition government defence minister Brendan Nelson indicated the government was disposed to acquiring a fourth vessel.
The defence project is Australia’s largest and will give the navy at least three modern warships equipped with advanced radars and weapons systems and the ability to defend against air and missile attacks.
Each ship comprises 31 200-tonne hull blocks constructed in Europe and at Forgacs in Newcastle, BAE in Melbourne and ASC in Adelaide. The blocks will be assembled into ships at the Australian Submarine Corporation facility in Adelaide.
The project has experienced delays, mainly because of capability shortfalls at the BAE Systems Williamstown yard, where the first of the navy’s new landing helicopter docks is having its superstructure and internal systems installed.
BAE had warned that it would have no choice but to lay off more than 200 workers unless Defence was able to give it more work.
The shipbuilder is believed to have asked the government to reverse the decision in 2011 to reallocate four keel blocks for the air warfare destroyer from BAE to shipbuilders in Newcastle and Adelaide.
Mr Smith said Defence was looking at ways that the BAE Shipyard could be better utilised in the air warfare destroyer project.
The Australian Financial Review