The first of the Armidale Class Patrol Boats, that have been designed and built by Western Australian ship builder Austal, has been launched and named.
The vessels are being built by Austal Ships through a $553 million Federal Government contract the ship builder shares with the Defence Materiel Organisation that the Government signed in 2003.
Last year the Government added another two vessels to the original 12-vessel order.
Besides building the vessels, which will replace the Royal Australian Navy’s Fremantle Class boats, Austal and DMO will be involved in their long-term support.
Under the terms of the contract, the patrol boats will be delivered at regular intervals over the next two and a half years.
Called NUSHIP Armidale, this vessel will be delivered to the Royal Australian Navy in May at its home port of Darwin where it will be commissioned into service. Work began on the vessel in May 2004.
Construction of the second and third boats in the class has already commenced.
The bulk of the Armidale class fleet will be based in Darwin and Cairns and will operate within Australia’s Marine Jurisdictional Zones and international waters not exceeding 50 degrees latitude.
Their main purpose will be to carry out surveillance, interception, investigation, apprehension and the escort to port of vessels suspected of illegal fisheries, quarantine, customs or immigration offences.
The extra two vessels the Government ordered will operate out of either Dampier or Port Hedland to patrol the waters around offshore oil and gas facilities off WA’s north west coast.
Austal has been moving further towards defence work over the past two years.
Its defence aspirations were given a boost last year when its team mate Bath IronWorks was awarded the $78 million final design phase contract for the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship.
The LCS project could lead to an order of 60 vessels from the US Government worth around $US12 billion over a 15-year period.
While US laws require that the vessels have to be built in the US, the design work will be done at Austal’s Henderson facility.
Austal also has a $100 million order to build 10 patrol boats for Yemen and completed a three-vessel patrol boat contract for Kuwait.
The name Armidale for the RAN’s latest patrol boat refers to Bathurst class corvette HMAS Armidale, which was sunk in action in 1942 during operations to reinforce guerrilla forces operating in Timor.