Faced with enhanced military threats in the waters of the Pacific, Australia recently paid $110 million for a 10-year-old Norwegian ship, which will shortly be transformed into a defense force vessel intended to support upcoming undersea military operations.
The 107-meter vessel is undergoing examinations and certifications in Singapore, according to ABC News, before it is scheduled to arrive later this year and be rechristened as the Australian Defense Vessel (ADV) “Guidance.”
The acquisition of a commercial ship to be transformed into an unmanned surface vessel (USV) was secretly approved by the then-Scott Morrison administration in March last year, but the sale wasn’t finalized until late 2022, well after the election, ABC News reported.
However, the alacrity with which the Australian defense department moved to purchase the vessel is the most intriguing.
In December 2022, the Norwegian company Solstad Offshore announced the sale of its 2013-built Construction Support Vessel (CSV) Normand Jarl to a “buyer outside the offshore industry” for approximately US$60 million. A day later, Australia stepped in.
A day after the Norwegian company made the sale announcement of its commercial vessel, the Australian defense department gave Teekay Shipping Australia a contract for US$100,000 to perform “due diligence inspections” on an unidentified ship that has since been given the name “Guidance.”
Defense industry members in Australia are appalled that the country will buy used foreign ships instead of new ones built by local workers. Industry body Australian Industry and Defense Network’s Brent Clark said, “The purchase of a second-hand vessel as an underseas support vessel seems at odds with the requirement to develop a sovereign national naval shipbuilding Industry.”
“Whenever these types of decisions are made, there can be no ability to grow an Australian workforce, increase the capability of Australian workers and develop and sustain a sovereign naval shipbuilding industry.”
The announcement about the purchase of “Guidance” ADV comes after the widespread furor in Canberra on purchasing five second-hand Virginia-class submarines from the United States last month. The acquisition, made under the aegis of AUKUS Alliance, was criticized for an astronomical cost of US$368 billion.
There has been significant dissonance on the issue of the high cost of the acquisition of nuclear submarines, despite the assurances provided by the Australian defense department and the Anthony Albanese government.
Some netizens said on Twitter that the cost was very high for “second-hand” submarines, while others flagged the impact of the purchase on taxpayers’ money.
Both the purchases demonstrate the importance that Canberra attaches to security in the seas, with its focus incrementally shifting to undersea military security and operations.
Moreover, the report suggests that the vessel will be used to test technology and system for future use.
Big Plans For ADV “Guidance”
The primary responsibility of ADV Guidance will be to support trials of undersea surveillance systems, including the deployment of robotic and autonomous systems and crewed and uncrewed underwater vehicles.
Australian Deputy Secretary of Defense for Navy Shipbuilding and Sustainment Tony Dalton said the new purchase would help progress several tests and activities using cutting-edge undersea technologies.
Dalton said that the Australian defense department is displaying its dedication to offering a cutting-edge capacity, which will increase the Australian Defense Forces’ (ADF) ability to deliver various subsea project solutions.
He further explained that ADV Guidance would play a key role in developing and testing robotic and autonomous underwater systems, ensuring the defense forces can compete and succeed in a wide range of challenging underwater environments.
Although the ship is now operated under Australia’s civilian flag registration, the defense department has been attempting to hasten the process by which vessels are transferred from the public registry into the defense department’s custody.
According to the Australian Defense magazine, it is possible that the purchase was made to bolster the Royal Australian Navy’s expanding fleet of unmanned vehicles. The Royal Navy recently purchased two similar vessels to operate as motherships for uncrewed systems.
The purchase of Guidance ADV follows a similar acquisition of another Norwegian vessel, renamed Australian Defense Vessel “Reliant.” There have been discussions that it might be possible to modify the Reliant to operate a landing craft in the future because it has enough room on its cargo deck for one or possibly two landing craft and a sizable stabilized crane.
The Reliant, formerly known as the Horizon Star, was purchased by the defense department for US$95 million. A similar role may be envisioned for the latest ADV Guidance. Even the ADV Reliant purchase came under the scanner for the limitations of operating such a vessel.
However, as the Pacific gets more contested by the day, the Australian defense department has sounded optimistic about its regional purchases and military strategy.
Defense Industry Minister Pat Conroy told the media, “The Albanese government is determined to build the capability the Australian Defense Force needs for the circumstances we face.”