Australia’s 12 next-generation offshore patrol vessels (OPV) under the Arafura-class have experienced significant delays, prompting the Government to list the programme as a “project of concern.”

The original equipment manufacturer, Luerssen Australia, was tasked with building the Arafura-class fleet in 2017 to replace the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) existing but ageing Armidale and Cape classes.

These OPVs will be able to perform maritime patrol, response duties, and constabulary missions. The vessels can be customised to perform mine hunting, hydrographic survey, fisheries patrol, disaster relief, and unmanned aerial system missions.

Recently, at the end of September, the RAN decommissioned two Armidale ships – the seven-year-old vessel HMAS Larrakia II and the 15-year-old HMAS Maryborough IIwith the intention of inducting the next-generation Arafura vessels.

However, only one Arafura OPV is complete albeit undergoing outfitting, while four more are currently under construction.

Pressing requirements for Australian security in the Indo-Pacific

According to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) patrol boats are the “primary enabler” of its contribution to Operation Sovereign Borders and a key arm of Operation Resolute, a whole-of-government initiative to protect and secure the country’s maritime domain.

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By GlobalData

Of course, this will put pressure on the Commonwealth to deliver the Arafura programme at a time when the nation is committed to mobilising to defend itself from China’s aggressive military posture.

“Intense China-United States competition is the defining feature of our region and our time,” Australia’s latest Defence Strategic Review (DSR) stated earlier this year. “This build-up is occurring without transparency or reassurance to the Indo-Pacific region of China’s strategic intent.”

Despite this, the ADF and Luerssen Australia are starting to develop a remediation plan to help address delays to the OPV schedule.

The ‘Projects of Concern’ process brings senior stakeholders from Government and industry together to set out an agreed pathway to remediate listed projects.

Australia prioritises integrated capabilities, according to IIP

The inability of the country’s indigenous industrial base to deliver new OPVs on time challenges the ADF’s recent claims of having an “enviable track record of Australian shipbuilding efficiency and productivity,” after the recent induction of RAN’s sixth Evolved Cape-class patrol vessel.

The DSR explains the problem Australian Navy now faces going forward:

“Given the strategic circumstances and limited resource base we face, investing in the critical capabilities will require divesting, delaying, or re-scoping other activities that do not advance the attributes of the Integrated Force.

“Changes in the Integrated Investment Program (IIP) to realise the Integrated Force will require immediate decisions to realise time, resource (both workforce and financial) and cultural change.”

Currently, there is little to be found in the contributions that this platform has for an integrated force beyond the conventional sensor suite, used for navigational purposes.

Should the Government realign this platform to meet its IIP criteria, then it will integrate this sensor data within a joint force command structure for optimal military readiness in the region.

Additional reporting from Richard Thomas.