MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian Defence Minister Senator Marise Payne has announced that proposals from BAE Systems, Fincantieri and Navantia have been shortlisted for the country's program to build nine new frigates for the Royal Australian Navy.

The BAE Systems Global Combat Ship, based on the Type 26 frigate; Fincantieri's anti-submarine warfare FREMM (Fregata Europea Multi-Missione) and a redesigned version of Navantia's Álvaro de Bazán (F100) class vessel are vying for the $35 billion (US $27 billion) program.

The ships will be built in Adelaide, South Australia, with the first steel expected to be cut in 2020 and will be fitted with phased array radar systems being developed by Australia's CEA Technologies.

The shortlist marks first-pass approval of Australia's Future Frigate program (Project Sea 5000) and the ongoing competitive evaluation process (CEP) is expected to select a winning design, marking second pass approval, in 2018.

Two competing ship designers, DCNS of France and TKMS of Germany, have effectively been eliminated from the CEP by today's announcement.

Details of the frigate program formed part of a larger announcement made by the minister, which provided details of the Turnbull government's continuous naval surface vessel shipbuilding strategy.

Australia is also seeking to build 12 offshore patrol vessels and Payne revealed that Damen of the Netherlands, together with two German ship designers, Fassmer and Lürsssen, have been shortlisted and will now refine their respective proposals in conjunction with the commonwealth.

The $3 billion (US $2.31 billion) OPV program, known as Project Sea 1180, has also gained first pass approval and construction is due to begin in Adelaide in 2018, but will transfer to Western Australia in 2020, when construction of the first of the Sea 5000 frigates gets underway in South Australia.

Payne also announced that Australian shipbuilder Austal Ships has been selected to build and maintain up to 21 steel-hulled vessels for the government's Pacific patrol boat program, which will be gifted to South Pacific nations to replace older vessels.

Combined first and second pass approval for the $500 million (US $385.5 million) program will see the vessels built at Austal's facility at Henderson in Western Australia. The company intends to support the Pacific patrol boats (including deep maintenance) from Cairns in northern Queensland, under a sustainment contract further valued at around $400 million (US $308.2 million).

BAE Systems' Global Combat Ship is based on the Type 26 frigate.

Photo Credit: BAE Systems

"These three projects will ensure Australia retains a sovereign capability to build and sustain its naval vessels. Together they represent close to $40 billion worth of investment in Australia's future naval capabilities and our shipbuilding industry," Payne said in a statement to reporters.

"They will directly secure more than 2500 jobs for decades to come. They will also generate thousands of additional jobs with suppliers."

Australia is in an election year and the shipbuilding announcement has drawn criticism from the opposition Labor Party, which has accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's government of trying to shore up seats in South Australia.

"So rushed was this announcement that neither Mr. Turnbull or Senator Payne could answer basic questions such as how many offshore patrol vessels would be built in Adelaide," the shadow minister for defence, Stephen Conroy, and shadow assistant minister for defence, David Feeney, said in a joint statement.

"Nor would they confirm there is a contractual requirement for the offshore patrol vessel build to shift to Western Australia in 2020."