Signed during a four-day visit to Australia by UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, the first state level agreement with South Australia signed late last week and that has as its primary aim further strengthening of ties between Britain and Australia in the fields such as of space, cyber and green technologies, is clearly very welcome.
With South Australia home to Australia’s naval shipbuilding industry and where, at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide, BAE Systems Maritime Australia is responsible for the design and build of nine Hunter class frigates for the Royal Australian Navy, work on prototype blocks that will enable tools, plant, workforce and supplier products to be tested, evaluated and refined and that provide a solid operational foundation prior to the commencement of manufacturing the first Hunter class warship, is already well underway, further building of the trade relationship with Australia will be particularly welcome in Whitehall.
Osborne Naval Shipyard which Ms Truss visited late last week, will also be the manufacturing home of Australia’s planned AUKUS nuclear powered submarine fleet.
According to the UK Government announcement, the new-scheme business agreement signed by the Foreign Secretary and the Premier of the Government of South Australia, Steven Marshall last week is aimed at boosting UK-Australia industries of the future. The accompanying statement suggests that the scheme “will maximise the benefits such as strategic collaboration on future industries; increase cultural ties; and build on trade and investment opportunities arising from the recently signed free trade agreement (FTA) between the UK and Australia and which is expected to stimulate new trade worth £10.4bn”.
The Foreign Secretary also commented that the scheme together with the ambition of strengthening relationship with Australia and the FTA that was signed in December 2021 helps to “pave the way for UK accession into the CPTPP” – (The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership – a trade agreement between Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam) and on which substantial progress has I understand apparently now been made that should allow the UK to join later this year.
Make no mistake, smaller than the level of business done with the EU in pre-Brexit Britain it may well be, but Australia is a very important market for the UK just as the UK is also for Australia. When it comes to defence and security and following the signing of the AUKUS agreement last year, all this becomes even more important.
In respect of providing useful trade statistics, in 2020 the UK was Australia’s 5th largest trading partner with total trade amounting to £14.0bn and was the 3rd largest direct investor in Australia and the 2nd largest recipient of Australian foreign direct investment. According to the UK Government, in 2016 exports to Australia supported more than 100,000 jobs in the UK and some 15,300 UK businesses, employing 3.4 million people, exported goods to Australia. UKG says that some 13,300 UK SMEs are already exporting goods to Australia and that this represented 87% of all UK goods exporters to Australia in 2020.
Given the somewhat tense political situation back in the UK, it is pleasing that the Foreign Secretary together with Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace continued with this hugely important visit to Australia and that was planned to include continuing discussions on security and defence capability and issues such as maritime security and hybrid threats together with building on the already announced AUKUS agreement.
As the largest surface ship project in Australian history and based on the Type 26 Global Combat Ship that BAE Systems is currently building for the Royal Navy at its Clyde shipyards, Type 26 and the Hunter Class FFG’s that will be built for the Royal Australian Navy are already to be regarded as being the most advanced anti-submarine warship design capability in the world. As already mentioned, the Hunter Class FFGs will be constructed in Australia by ASC Shipbuilding at its Osborne Naval Shipyard in South Australia.
Hunter Class Global Combat Ships will provide the Australian Defence Force with the highest levels of lethality and deterrence our major surface combatants need in periods of global uncertainty. They will have the capability to conduct a variety of missions independently, or as part of a task group, with sufficient range and endurance to operate effectively throughout the region. The frigates will also have the flexibility to support non-warfare roles such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Incorporating the Australian-developed CEA Phased-Array Radar and the US Navy’s Aegis combat management system together with an Australian interface developed by Saab Australia, the highly capable and versatile Hunter Class multi-mission frigates will undoubtedly provide the Royal Australian Navy with profound improvements in anti-submarine warfare mission capability.
The first three Hunter Class warships will carry the names of three major Australian regions, all with strong historical maritime and naval ties. HMA Ships Flinders (II) (SA region named for explorer Captain Matthew Flinders – first circumnavigation of Australia and identified it as a continent); Hunter (NSW region named for Vice-Admiral John Hunter – first fleet Captain and second Governor of NSW); and Tasman (state and sea named for explorer Abel Tasman – first known European explorer to reach Tasmania, New Zealand and Fiji). The class name was specifically chosen for the alternate interpretation of a ‘hunter’ personifying the role of the frigates as a submarine hunter, with the term embodying the pursuit of prey.
Hunter class FFG’s will begin entering service in the late 2020’s and will ultimately replace the eight existing Anzac class vessels which have been in service since 1996. The programme will create and sustain 5,000 jobs including engineers, specialists in steel work, mechanical, electrical and technical trades and project managers across BAE Systems and the wider Australian defence supply chain and will include in the region of 1,000 apprentice and graduate roles.
It is also worth noting here that BAE Systems is committed to maximising opportunities for Australian industry throughout the lifetime of the Hunter Class Frigate program and that more than 1,500 Australian companies have already pre-qualified to work on Hunter Class vessel production and supply. Equally important to note is that the investment put into the Osborne Naval Shipyard will facilitate long-term development of a sustainable and competitive sovereign naval shipbuilding enterprise and one that Australia can be proud.
CHW (London – 24th January 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785