Australia Preps Regional Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement Program
February 28/17: Australian firm Austal has announced the successful completion of the detailed design review of its $243 million Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement Project . The contract has tasked Austal with designing, producing, and sustaining 19 steel vessels that will then be gifted to 12 Pacific island nations as part of efforts to bolster regional maritime security. Austal hopes to begin construction for the ships in April 2017, and expects to begin deliveries between 2018 and 2023.
Australia’s Pacific Patrol Boat program solves a regional problem. Australia needs stability, but many of its neighbors are island sets with vast territories to cover, small populations, and small economies. Australia’s regional Defence Cooperation Program eventually provided 22 Patrol Boats to 12 different Pacific nations from 1987 – 1997. This includes all ongoing maintenance, logistics support and training, as well as Royal Australian Navy (RAN) specialists in the countries where the PPBs are based. Pacific nations, in turn, use them to support their local military, police and fisheries agencies.
It hasn’t always gone well…
Australian patrol boats were used in Papua New Guinea’s blockade of Bougainville during their civil war, and in 2000, the Solomon Islands boat was co–opted by Malaitan militias and used against Guadalcanal villages. Even so, the program’s overall benefits led Australia to begin a life-extension program in 2000, designed to extend Australia’s involvement to at least 2017 at a cost of A$ 350 million.
In 2014, the Australian government made another major commitment to the program, with a $2 billion proposal to build new boats.
Contracts & Key Events
February 28/17: Australian firm Austal has announced the successful completion of the detailed design review of its $243 million Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement Project. The contract has tasked Austal with designing, producing, and sustaining 19 steel vessels that will then be gifted to 12 Pacific island nations as part of efforts to bolster regional maritime security. Austal hopes to begin construction for the ships in April 2017, and expects to begin deliveries between 2018 and 2023.
Dec 9/14: Tending the tender. Frazer-Nash, a British engineering consultancy which opened offices in Australia in 2010, announces that it was recently contracted by the Australian government to review the PPB-R’s high level technical specifications. The AUS $186K award was for a consulting engagement from July to November 2014. Meanwhile Power Initiatives, another consulting firm, won an AUS $243K study on October 7 to support the acquisition. These are small awards but they show that the tender is moving along. The effort is known as SEA3036.
Oct 17/14: Tender. Australia’s DMO published a notice saying that they intend to “release a Request for Tender (RFT) in Quarter 3 2014/2015 seeking a prime contractor for both the acquisition and support of a replacement fleet of Pacific Patrol Boats with the possibility that the support contract will include the provision of training services to the Pacific Island Countries.”
June 17/14: Announcement. Australia announces an A$ 594 million program to build “more than 20” purpose-designed, all-steel patrol boats for 13 PPB member countries: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and new member Timor-Leste.
Exact numbers and allocations will be discussed with the member states, and the boats themselves will be built under a competitive tender. Given that the current program involved 22 boats, a final tally of 22-25 boats is reasonable. The major cost driver will actually be an estimated A$ 1.38 billion for 30 years of through-life sustainment and advisory personnel costs. Sources: Australian DoD, “Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence – Maritime security strengthened through Pacific Patrol Boat Program” | Fiji Times Online, “$2b for Pacific patrol boat program”.
March 6/14: Maritime security cooperation talks between the Federated States of Micronesia and Australia. Micronesia’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs Lorin S. Robert singled out the Pacific Patrol Boat program:
“We cannot overemphasize its importance and its utility not only in ensuring maritime surveillance and law enforcement but also in addressing emergency relief operations, apprehending and preventing sea-borne security threats and delivering needed government services to outlying remote islands in the federation…”
Unsurprisingly, the program’s future was a subject of their talks. At the time, the report said only that “The dialogue ended on a clear direction of what to achieve for 2014 and the long-term plan for the patrol boats.” Sources: Islands Business, “Australia, FSM discuss Pacific patrol boat program”.
- Nautilus Institute – Pacific patrol boat program. Useful background 2000 – 2009.
- Australian National University – Australian member committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (Aus-CSCAP).