Australia Boosts Maritime System Procurement.

Author:Machi, Vivienne

Australia is investing heavily in new unmanned aerial vehicles and submarine hunters as competition from China heats up, said one analyst.

Beijing's naval modernization and expansion is of growing concern to Australia and its partners in the region, said Dan Darling, an Asia-Pacific military markets expert at Forecast International, a Newtown, Connecticut-based marketing and consulting firm.

"Seeing the increase in China's naval bandwidth [as well as] the growing congestion of submarines in the region in general--that is setting off alarm bells for defense planners," he said.

In late June, Australia announced its decision to award a contract worth over $25 billion to BAE Systems to deliver nine future frigates to the Royal Australian Navy. The award is part of the country's Project SEA 5000 program to modernize the country's maritime platforms, Darling said.

The future Hunter-class ship--also called the global combat ship-Australia--will replace the aging Anzac-class frigates. It is based on BAE Systems' Type 26 frigate, which is currently being constructed for the British Royal Navy. It will be built by the government-owned ASC Shipbuilding in South Australia, and is expected to create and sustain 5,000 skilled jobs for the country's workforce, according to the company. Italy's Fincantieri and Spain's Navantia SA ship manufacturers also submitted bids for the contract.

The initial design of the ship is expected to be determined by the end of 2018, while production is slated to start in 2020. Initial operating capability is expected for 2023 or 2024, according to the Australian government.

The country has made an effort over the past decade to bolster its own domestic defense industry, in particular for shipbuilding, Darling noted.

"It is one area where they have tried to... avoid these gaps in work orders," he said. "They want to avoid their shipbuilding "Valleys of Death.'"

Australia also recently announced its plans to procure Northrop Grumman's MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicle...

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