Constellation frigates for the Australian Navy? We take the path…

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles presented the long-awaited plan for the modernization of the Australian Navy earlier this week in Sydney. Unsurprisingly, he foresees a reduction in the number of Hunter-class frigates, against a backdrop of budgetary excesses in the program, but above all announces the doubling of the country's surface combatant fleet.

Among the new classes of ships which will join the Royal Australian Navy, a class of 11 multi-purpose frigates, constituting its future backbone, corresponds much more, in its description, to the future American frigates of the Constellation class, than to the European light frigates and Asians initially identified.

A new shipbuilding plan to modernize the Australian Navy

Le new Australian plan predicts, as might be expected, the reduction in the number of Type 26 Hunter-class frigates, of British design, of which only 6 examples, and not 9 as initially planned, will be delivered from 2034 until 2040. With the three anti-aircraft destroyers of the Hobart class, they will form the first-tier fleet (Tier 1 in the text), of the Royal Australian Navy.

These ships will be supported by 17 second-tier ships (Tier 2), a fleet made up of 11 multi-purpose frigates intended for escort missions, and six large ships with optional crew, or Large Optionally Crewed Surface Vessels (LOSV), intended for carry long-range strike capabilities, towards land and towards opposing ships. Finally, a flotilla of 25 third-rate ships, minor war vessels, including six new large OPV-type patrol boats, will carry out coastal defense missions.

Australian Navy Anzac class
The Royal Australian Navy fields 8 Anzac-class frigates to date, both ships serving in the New Zealand Navy.

The objective announced by Richard Marles, here, is to double the size of the surface combatant fleet of the Royal Australian Navy by 2040. However, many unknowns remain in the implementation of this new plan which, as is often the case in Australia, is very ambitious, but full of gray areas.

AEGIS frigates which come very close to the American Constellation frigates

The first of these is none other than the model which will be chosen by Canberra, to constitute the 11 second-rate frigates of the RAN. During the naval review published almost a year ago, several frigates were put forward as meeting Australia's potential needs: the German Meko-200, the Spanish Alfa3000, the South Korean Daegu Block III, and the Japanese FFM Mogami.

Since then, the specifications imposed by the RAN have evolved significantly (as is very frequently the case in this country). Indeed, the frigates will have to accommodate an AEGIS system, therefore an SPY-6 radar, as well as at least 32 VLS silos, most probably American Mk41s. However, none of the previously identified classes was designed to accommodate the AEGIS system, and to carry 32 vertical silos that could take advantage of the AEGIS, to accommodate, at a minimum, the SM-2 or SM-6 missiles.

On the other hand, this requirement, as well as the description of the missions which should be entrusted to the Australian frigates, seem to correspond perfectly to the new American frigates of the Constellation class, of which twenty examples, at least, will be built for the US Navy.

Constellation class frigates
The Consteallation class would certainly be a reasonable choice, from both an industrial and military point of view, to constitute the backbone of the Australian Navy.

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