The Royal Australian Navy building a new fleet of twelve Armidale-class patrol boats. The new class is named in honor of the corvette HMAS Armidale, which was sunk by Japanese bombers in 1942.
The contract to build and support the ships is worth approximately $350 million (US). The new 188-foot, low profile patrol boats will replace the RAN's fifteen 138-foot Fremantle-class boats, which have trouble operating in rougher seas. The aluminum-hulled, stealth-configuration Armidales are to built to merchant ship construction specifications rather than to Navy specs, in a move to save on construction costs.
Needing a crew of just 24, the Armidales will also accommodate 20 special forces or other passengers and at a cruise speed of 40 kilometers per hour, they will have a range of 5,400 kilometers. The patrol boats will be armed with either a Rafael Typhoon quick-firing, 25-millimeter gyro-stabilized cannon or 25mm Bushmaster cannon (as carried by the army's ASLAV light armored vehicles). The Armidales will also complement the coast guards three larger seagoing patrol boats. To increase flexibility, each Armidale will have two rigid inflatable boats to carry out boarding and surveillance operations at considerable distance from the mother ship. The navy's current 15 Fremantle-class patrol boats, at 138 feet and a crew of 22, carry a relatively simple radar and communications outfit and a 40mm Bofors gun, and sport one small inflatable boat.
The RAN expects to operate each boat an average of 250 days a year, with an additional short-notice availability of 50 days each. They will operate out of Cairns and Darwin with primary missions of coastal patrol, interception of vessels carrying asylum seekers, stopping illegal fishing, and capturing smugglers. Australia is also partnering with the US and other allies in investigating ways to stop shipments of WMDs from North Korea, which recently announced it has built several nuclear weapons and may export them for cash.
The first boats are scheduled to enter service in early 2005 and deliveries continuing through 2008. -- K.B. Sherman