BAE Systems has announced that it will award contracts to businesses in Australia for the prototyping phase of the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) Hunter-class frigate programme.

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

To be built by the company’s subsidiary ASC Shipbuilding, Hunter-class frigates are a new class of anti-submarine warfare vessels that will replace the existing ANZAC-class frigates.

BAE Systems held an event in Adelaide that was attended by more than 150 businesses. The event set the stage for the process to bid for contract work during the programme’s prototyping phase, which is expected to start next year.

ASC expects to build five ship blocks at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in South Australia, beginning in December next year. Construction on the first frigate will begin in 2022.

The process will be open to Australian businesses that supply minor equipment and services such as scaffolding and pipes to deck coverings and insulation, with an opportunity to secure an estimated A$20m ($13.92m) in contracts.

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The contracts will be awarded across two specific supplier categories. One of these categories, known as ‘category D’, aims to procure all services from domestic suppliers.

ASC Shipbuilding managing director Craig Lockhart said: “The Hunter programme is committed to maximising opportunities for Australian suppliers through supply contracts and initiatives to nurture and grow small-to-medium sized businesses.

“Today’s procurement update is not just an information session, this is a genuine opportunity for our team to help Australian businesses bid for upcoming contracts to supply equipment and materials for the prototyping blocks, like scaffolding, pipes, steel, deck coverings, cables and insulation, as well as services, like outfitting and painting.”