Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced the government will acquire new mine warfare and hydrographic survey vessels under two new projects.
While campaigning for the federal election in Perth on April 29, the PM said up to $1 billion will be spent on two mine warfare support vessels and a hydrographic vessel to be built at the Henderson shipyard south of Fremantle in WA.
The new mine warfare vessels will see the planned decommissioning of current Huon class vessels brought forward from the 2030s to the mid-2020s, and will form part of a wider Project SEA 1905 Maritime Mine Countermeasures Program.
Six Huon class Mine Hunter Coastal (MHC) vessels were commissioned between 1999 and 2003 under Project SEA 1555, and are based on the Italian Lerici class design. They are equipped with two electrically-powered Bofors Underwater Systems Double Eagle mine disposal vehicles equipped with a searchlight, closed-circuit low light television camera and an on-board close-range identification sonar.
The 172ft long Huon class typically embarks a crew of 40, and displaced 732 tonnes. Two of the class were mothballed and placed in reserve in 2011, while the remaining four MHCs are based at HMAS Waterhen in Sydney.
The 2016 Defence Integrated Investment Plan (IIP) projected the Huon class would be extended into the mid-2030s through a service life extension and capability assurance program to be implemented by 2025, so the decision appears to be a reversal of that plan.
The IIP states; “Extending the life of four of the existing Huon Class fleet will provide time to develop and evaluate remotely operated mine countermeasures and bathymetric collection systems to inform capability development. This could include the potential future option of a modular, mine countermeasures system that could be deployed from a range of non-specialist vessels, subject to developments in technology.”
The new Hydrographic vessel will be procured as part of the Project SEA 2400 Hydrographic Data Collection Capability program. The RAN also currently operates two Leeuwin class hydrographic vessels (AGS), both of which were commissioned in 2000. These 274ft long vessels displace 2,170 tonnes, have a complement of about 60, and can embark a light helicopter.
The hydrographic mission provides updated marine charts to Navy to ensure safety of navigation, as well as environmental situational awareness to the commander. The two AGS vessels are based at HMAS Cairns.
The 2016 IIP states; “Defence will replace this capability with an efficient combination of military and commercial hydrographic and oceanographic survey capabilities to deliver the required capacity. Subject to developments in technology, modular systems could in the future enable enhanced hydrographic capabilities from non-specialist vessels suitable for tasks including rapid environmental assessment in support of operations.”
While no project timeline has been provided for the new mine warfare vessels, first pass approval for the hydrographic vessel is expected by the end of 2019, with construction due to commence in 2020.