Surface Forces: China Loses Another Customer


January 7, 2022: Australia has run into problems replacing its aging offshore patrol boats. The last six of its 18 new Cape-class boats ran into problems when it was discovered the China had sold Austal, the Australian builder, sub-standard aluminum. Austal dropped the Chinese as a source but fixing the problems caused by the defective metal delayed delivery of the last six boats by up to nine months. In addition to the cost of replacing the defective Chinese metal, there was an additional $32 million needed to keep older patrol boats in service a little longer. Without these additional costs each of the last six Cape-class boats was to cost $42 million each.

Currently Australia has twelve Armidale-class and two of eight smaller but older Bay class boats that began entering service in 1999, six years before the first Armidale. The Armidale/Bay replacements are 18 Cape-class boats, which began entering service in 2016. Eleven of these are currently in service with one more under construction. The Cape-class had better accommodations for the smaller crew of 18 and carried two RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats) plus one small boat for inspecting ships and rescuing people at sea. Armament is two 12.7mm machine-guns. The last six Evolved Cape-class boats were ordered in 2020 and these had several improvements over the first twelve boats. The first Evolved Cape-class boat was supposed to enter service in 2022. That has been delayed to 2023 or later,

In June 2005 Australia commissioned the first of fourteen Armidale-class patrol boats. These ships patrolled Australia’s vast northern coastline. By 2021 twelve were still in service and due to retire by the late 2020s. These ships were more successful than their British designed predecessors and, except for some difficulties with the fuel system, problem-free.

The Armidale’s replaced the 25-year-old Fremantle class boats, which entered service in the early 1980s and were all retired by 2007. The Armidales were the first Australian designed patrol boats while the Fremantle’s were British designed, and not very successful in Australia. They had stability problems, and a long list of lesser complaints. The Armidales were designed to overcome all of the Fremantle’s shortcomings. The 300-ton Armidales were longer, at 56.8 meters (186 feet) than the 42 meters (137 foot) long 220-ton Fremantles. The two classes have the same crew size, 24, although the Armidales also had accommodations for another 20 passengers (special forces, or whatever). The Armidale’s have a cruising speed of 40 kilometers per hour, and a range of 5,400 kilometers. Armament consists of a 25mm automatic cannon. Also carried are two RIBs, which allow the crew to carry out boarding, surveillance and rescue operations. The Armidales were built to be at sea up to 250 days a year. To keep patrol boats at sea this often, each vessel has two crews, which rotate the sea time. Primary missions are coastal patrol, interception of smugglers and illegal fishing.

Since the 1990s Australia has developed local ship building capability that has performed well, with a growing number of Australian-built boats and fast transports (another Austal specialty) exported.




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