The Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) Hunter-class frigate programme has officially entered the prototyping phase, marking a key milestone for National Naval Shipbuilding Enterprise.

The prototyping phase was officially launched with Australian steel cutting ceremony.

BAE Systems Australia noted that five representative ship blocks will be manufactured and assembled during the phase.

In 2018, the Australian Government awarded a contract worth A$35bn ($24.37bn) to BAE Systems to construct nine Hunter-class frigates for RAN under the SEA 5000 programme.

The new class of anti-submarine warfare vessels will replace the existing Anzac-class frigates. It is based on BAE Systems’ Type 26 ‘Global Combat Ship’ design.

BAE Systems Australia CEO Gabby Costigan said: “To start prototyping just two years after the contract to deliver the Hunter programme was signed in 2018, is an incredible achievement.

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“The pace of the programme has been swift. We have moved into a modern, digitally advanced shipyard, progressed the design of the ship and significantly expanded our workforce. 

“In the year ahead, we look forward to recruiting many more people to the programme, putting the shipyard through its paces, engaging further with our supply chain and placing more contracts with Australian businesses.”

The prototyping phase will run for three years through 2023. The construction phase is expected to start by the end of 2022.

In June last year, BAE Systems said it will award contracts to businesses in Australia for the prototyping phase of the Hunter-class frigate programme.

Australia Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said: “The Hunter-class programme will be the cornerstone of this government’s up to $183bn Naval Shipbuilding Plan, which will see more than 70 naval vessels built here in Australia by Australian workers.

“This truly national endeavour marks the largest regeneration of the navy since the Second World War, which will employ 15,000 jobs across Australia.”