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By Pia Akerman
May 04, 2009 07:44am

THE race to win a multi-billion-dollar contract to build eight naval frigates has begun, only hours after the plan was announced in the defence white paper.

The states and defence companies are already jostling to spruik their credentials, despite warnings from defence experts that the project would be years away, even if money could be found to pay for it, The Australian reports.

Premier Mike Rann has announced South Australia will bid for the ships to be built at the Techport site in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, vowing work could begin once construction of the Air Warfare Destroyers there was complete.

“There are no other facilities in Australia that can compare with Techport, so we are in a very good position,” Mr Rann said.

“The South Australian Government will be bidding to have the next generation of frigates built in South Australia both for consolidation onsite and in terms of high-level modules.

“It’s the perfect follow-on to the Air Warfare Destroyers … in terms of the skill set, the infrastructure, the hi-tech companies (in Adelaide).”

But a spokesman for BAE Systems Australia said they would be the biggest contender for the project, using the Williamstown shipyard in Victoria, acquired last year as part of BAE’s takeover of Tenix Defence.

Jim McDowell, chief executive of BAE Systems Australia, has previously spoken of his company’s “natural capability” to build a replacement for the Anzac frigates, but said there would need to be “significant” sharing of work between BAE and commonwealth-owned submarine builder ASC to handle such a vast enterprise.

A spokeswoman for the Victorian Government said the state welcomed the white paper’s “significant opportunities” for the local defence industry.

Austal in Western Australia and FORGACS in NSW have also been mentioned as possible bidders for part of the frigate project.

Released on Saturday, the white paper announced plans to replace the current Anzac-class frigate with a larger Future Frigate specialising in anti-submarine warfare.

The frigates would be fitted with cruise missiles and be able to carry a combination of naval combat helicopters and maritime unmanned aerial vehicles.

Defence expert Hugh White yesterday said South Australia would probably have an advantage in bidding for the frigates, as it could probably be built on the same hull used for the AWDs.

But he poured cold water on the early enthusiasm shown for the project, saying any contractual decisions were years away.

“Those choices will not be made by the present Government, certainly not in this term of government and I would think not even in the next term,” Professor White said.

“We’re talking about a project which is at least 20 years away in terms of delivering ships.

“There are a lot of very big things to be done in naval shipbuilding in Australia first.”

Professor White said he was not convinced there was a strategic justification to replace the Anzac frigates with ships of a larger capability.,,25423976-2702,00.html


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