MELBOURNE, Australia — The builder of the Royal Australian Navy’s new Hunter-class frigates has told Defense News that the ship’s design remains “within agreed weight and space envelopes,” despite a recent report in Australian media claiming recent changes have caused concern.

ASC Shipbuilding was responding to a June 26 story in the Australian Financial Review that said growth in the ship design’s weight and length is “sparking concerns.”

But ASC Shipbuilding Managing Director Craig Lockhart said Thursday the company remained confident in its ability to meet Australia’s capability requirements and specifications.

“ASC Shipbuilding is going through the normal naval design process for the Hunter-class frigate and is working collaboratively with the [Australian Defence Department’s] Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group and the Royal Australian Navy to design a ship that meets Australia’s capability and performance requirements,” Lockhart said.

Australia is building nine Hunter-class frigates under the AU$35 billion (U.S. $24 billion) Project Sea 5000. The ship is based on BAE Systems’ Global Combat Ship, which is under construction in the U.K. for the Royal Navy as the Type 26 and will also be built in Canada as the Canadian Surface Combatant. However, the Australian government has mandated the incorporation of a CEA Technologies electronically scanned radar, which is designed and manufactured in Australia. It has also required the Lockheed Martin Aegis combat system and an Australian interface designed by Saab Australia.

Australia’s specifications have impacted the size and weight of the Australian vessel’s radar mast as well as its power and cooling requirements, but Lockhart maintains the ship is not undergoing a redesign. Rather it is in the midst of what he calls a “normal naval design process,” and he sees nothing to date which will challenge the design margins.

“This design work involves understanding the impact of the Australian-specific systems and equipment and incorporating the agreed design activities, which have occurred as the first-of-class Type 26 Global Combat Ship design matures,” Lockhart said.

“Contrary to the suggestion made in the article, Hunter is not being redesigned, but instead our team is right in the middle of a normal naval ship design process for Hunter,” he added. “Importantly, the design activities being undertaken remain within the agreed weight and space envelopes for Hunter, and we remain confident in our ability to meet the capability requirements and specifications for the commonwealth on time and on budget.”

Prototyping construction work is expected to begin at ASC’s new purpose-built shipyard in Osborne, South Australia, in December, ahead of cutting steel for the first ship in December 2022. This first vessel is planned to become operational with the Royal Australian Navy around the end of the decade.

Nigel Pittaway is the Australia correspondent for Defense News.

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