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RAN calls for MCM robotics and AI for Arafura class OPVs


Then-Minister for Defence Christopher Pyne MP (centre) inspects a model of the Arafura class OPV. The build program for these vessels is now 20 ships. Photo: Defence

The Australian Department of Defence has made a down-select decision to explore a variant of the Arafura class Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) as the RAN new Mine Countermeasures and Survey Vessels under project SEA 1905 Phase 1, says Minister for Defence Senator Linda Reynolds. Defence has also called for Expressions of Interest from Australian industry in providing autonomous and robotics mission systems for the MCM mission management and operational systems.

This commitment boosts the specialist variants of the OPV from three vessels now to eight, worth up to $5 billion.

During a visit to the Henderson precinct in Western Australia Senator Reynolds added, “Following the election commitment made by the Federal Government in 2019, we are bringing forward the replacement of the Huon-class [MCM] vessel from the 2030’s to the mid 2020’s. We are also committed to constructing a new hydrographic capability.

“These vessels will help Navy navigate more confidently throughout the region, and safely clear minefields with the use of autonomous technologies.”
Defence has released an Invitation to Register and Request for Information on Austender for various components of the mission management system, the integration of the system, and the construction of a toolbox of Robotic and Autonomous Systems that the new vessels will require.
“And I would encourage all Australian companies – and we have many companies who are at the leading edge of autonomous systems and autonomous vessels and vehicles – to have a look at this and to work with Navy to develop options,” Senator Reynolds said.

This is all part of the Australian government’s unprecedented peacetime investment in a National Naval Shipbuilding Enterprise, with Henderson being one of the country’s two major shipbuilding hubs in Australia, along with Osborne in South Australia, Minister Reynolds added.
Currently, three classes of vessels are under construction at Henderson including:

  • 21 Guardian class vessels
  • 10 of the 12 Arafura class offshore patrol vessels
  • 6 Evolved Cape class vessels.

Since the 2016 Defence White Paper, eight ships have already been built and delivered in WA, with another eight ships currently under construction at Henderson.
“With a total of up to 45 ships to be built in WA, shipbuilding has gone from zero to boom in seven years because of the Morrison Government’s significant investment,” the Minister said. “Our commitment to shipbuilding in Australia is unprecedented in its scale and ambition.”
The RAN’s Anzac class frigates are also undergoing a major midlife upgrade at Henderson. This includes systems modernisation as well as quality-of-life improvements for the crew, at a cost of more than $1 billion.
Today, around half of Australia’s surface combatant fleet and all six Collins class submarines are home ported in WA.
“With plans highlighted in the 2020 Force Structure Plan to build two multi-role sealift and replenishment ships, a Pacific Support Vessel, and an ice-rated replacement for Ocean Protector in Australia, additional major docking facilities will be required in the near future to supplement the capability of the Captain Cook Graving Dock in Sydney,” Senator Reynolds said. “The construction of such a facility would be an enormous boost to our sovereign shipbuilding and sustainment industry.”

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