With another surface fleet review, what sort of fleet do we need?

By Stephen Kuper

One of the key announcements of the government’s Defence Strategic Review (DSR) is that our surface fleet would be subject to yet another review into its force structure slated for release later this year, but have we asked ourselves, what sort of fleet do we need?

Whether it is for our raw resource or agricultural exports, or the critical import of liquid fuel or consumer goods like cars, as an island nation, Australia’s future prosperity and security is intrinsically linked to our unmolested access to the global maritime commons.

This reality is critically important in the light of mounting regional and global naval build ups and is the driving force behind the nation’s pursuit of the trilateral AUKUS agreement which will deliver the nation’s nuclear-powered submarine fleet, which has drawn extensive attention both at home and abroad.

Meanwhile, the Albanese government’s long-awaited Defence Strategic Review has shed light on the long-term direction of the nation’s defence posture and ensuing capability development pathways in the context of what Prime Minister Anthony Albanese explains, “We confront the most challenging strategic circumstances since the Second World War, both in our region and indeed around the world. That’s why we’re investing in our capabilities and we’re investing, too, in our relationships to build a more secure Australia and a more stable and prosperous region.

“It is the most significant work that’s been done since the Second World War, looking in a comprehensive way at what is needed. It demonstrates that in a world where challenges to our national security are always evolving, we cannot fall back on old assumptions,” Prime Minister Albanese said at the formal announcement of the DSR in late April at Parliament House.

A key pillar for delivering this is the Royal Australian Navy and its surface and submarine fleets respectively, in recognising this, the DSR identifies the need to establish: “An enhanced lethality surface combatant fleet, that complements a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine fleet, is now essential given our changed strategic circumstances … Australia’s Navy must be optimised for operating Australia’s immediate region and for the security of our sea lines of communication and maritime trade.”

To this end, the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles, articulated the need for a “short, sharp” review into the make-up of the Australian Navy’s surface fleet, to reshape it into a flexible, future-proofed force capable of meeting the tactical and strategic operational requirements placed upon the service by the nation’s policymakers.

Explaining the logic behind the need for this review, the Deputy Prime Minister explained: “We do feel, as the review has recommended, that there is merit in having a short condition check at this moment in time about the future shape of our surface fleet. And there are a couple of reasons for that. The first is that the surface fleet, as it’s currently constructed, was determined at a time when Australia was still pursuing a diesel electric-powered submarine.


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