BAE Systems Australia has confirmed that it will not be bidding for the Pacific Patrol Boats project, calling into question the ongoing viability of its Williamstown shipyard in Melbourne.
“If the tender is awarded in the first quarter of 2017, this would mean that production will not start until the end of that year or early 2018,” a spokesperson told Australian Defence Business Review on June 18. “Reconstituting a workforce in 2017 or 2018 to produce Pacific Patrol Boats would not be economically viable.”
In the absence of new orders, all shipbuilding activity at Williamstown will be completed early next year.
“BAE Systems’ skills and capabilities lie in the design, build, through-life support and upgrading of complex warships and the integration of the systems they carry,” the spokesperson said. “The Pacific Patrol Boats, being small, non-complex vessels, do not assist us in retaining many of our core capabilities. As we have been saying, and as numerous experts engaged by the government have advised, the Australian naval shipbuilding industry needs the government to act on its statements about accelerating future naval shipbuilding projects like SEA 5000 [Future Frigates] with a plan that supports continuous production.”
The federal government announced the SEA 3036 Phase 1 request for tender for the replacement Australian-made patrol boats in March. At the time, BAE Systems welcomed the news, stating that its bid was already being prepared.
Current work being undertaken at Williamstown includes the LHD amphibious ships, and hull modules or blocks for the Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) program. The second LHD, NUSHIP Adelaide, will be delivered later this year. Meanwhile, the remaining eight AWD blocks contracted to BAE Systems are all in production and will be progressively completed between now and early next year. However, the company spokesperson made it clear that as things stand no decision has been made to close the Williamstown shipyard.
“We continue to explore commercial and Defence projects that will enable us to maintain a shipbuilding capability,” the BAE Systems spokesperson said.