|Article from: The Australian
AUSTAL believes it is in the box seat to win the right to build a new generation of smaller warships designed to revolutionise the way the navy patrols Australia's vast maritime zone.
The Rudd Government's new defence white paper will see billions of dollars spent on naval shipbuilding including a new class of "offshore combatant vessels" able to undertake war-fighting, counter-piracy and border protection roles.
The Perth-based shipbuilder built the 14 Armidale-class patrol boats now in service with the navy that will be replaced by about 20 of the larger mutli-role vessels of up to 2000 tonnes. Austal just won a second contract to supply a 127-metre vessel for the US Navy's new fleet of high-speed littoral combat ships and hopes their next successful contract will allow them to re-employ 150 staff they recently let go as a result of the economic downturn.
Austal chief executive Bob Browning said its Multi-Role Vessel would be perfectly suited to the navy's need for 20 "offshore combatant vessels" which would replace four classes of ships currently in service with the RAN including the Armidale class patrol boats.
Mr Browning said Austal's MRVs had open computer systems which could be easily swapped or upgraded for different missions, from border patrol to counter-piracy operations, special forces support or humanitarian relief work. "(There are) pre-configured mission modules that you bring in to the mission bay underneath the flight deck, bolt them down, plug them in to the ship's systems and you can literally convert the ship from anti-submarine warfare to mine detection and removal," he said.
The MRV can be built between 88 and 102m in length and has a landing deck for a helicopter or an unmanned aerial vehicle.
Austal is currently building a 102m civilian version of the MRV for cars and passengers, but has not yet built one for the military.
"We found we can take commercial applications and make them work quite well for the navy," Mr Browning said.
That's what happened with the first Littoral Combat Ship Austal built for the US - they had already made a 127m ferry for a Canary Islands business and adapted it for military use. On Friday, Austal won a contract to build a second LCS, the USS Coronado, and is confident of getting at least half the contracts for the 55-strong fleet.
It is hoping to cash in on an expected $200-500 million budget expenditure on anti-people smuggling measures.