Aussie Hunter-class Frigate Program Facing Cuts?

By Dan Middlemiss, 22 September 2023

Andrew Tillet has reported in Australian Financial Review widespread expectations that the review of the Australian navy’s surface fleet conducted by the government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will recommend the number of Hunter-class frigates ordered be reduced by at least three ships.[1]

The surface ship review, headed by retired US Admiral William Hilarides, is expected to be handed to Defence Minister Richard Marles by the end of September. The review followed the Defence Strategic Review (DSR), which called for a navy made up of “a larger number of smaller surface vessels” well armed with missiles. The surface ship review may urge the government to acquire smaller ‘tier 2’ warships such as corvettes or light frigates, as well as larger missile-laden destroyers.

US Studies Centre Professor Peter Dean, the co-lead of the DSR Secretariat, said going ahead with the Hunter-class frigates would make it difficult to free up funds for other vessels, including smaller warships, amphibious ships and supply ships. He added that continuing with the Hunter frigates would build pressure on the defence department’s budget squeeze given that a recent Australian National Audit Office report indicated that “the project has not yet reached its most difficult phase and costs will only spiral further.”

A BAE Systems spokesman would not speculate on future government decisions on naval capability but maintained that the Hunter program was making strong progress.

As a follow-up, the Australian parliament’s Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit took the unusual step of demanding a defence company to appear and provide evidence about the frigates. Under questioning for over an hour, BAE Systems Australia CEO Ben Hudson assured the committee that progress on the Hunter-class warships was progressing well despite initial problems. Despite repeated questioning, Mr Hudson declined to publicly reveal the current projected ‘top weight’ of the Hunter-class frigate, or its parent design, Britain’s new Type 26 warship.[2]


[1]. Andrew Tillet, “Late and overweight frigates worth $45b may face cuts,” Australian Financial Review, 7 September 2023. Note this source is paywalled.

[2]. Andrew Greene, “Parliament scrutinises weighty problems on $45 billion warship project,” ABC News,, 8 September 2023.


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