http://www.smh.com.au, Austal stepped up its push into the defence shipbuilding arena yesterday, outlining plans to bid for the Federal Government's $2billion amphibious ship project.
The Perth shipbuilder has formed a consortium with US defence electronics supplier Raytheon as part of its bid to build the two 25,000-tonne, 200-metre-long ships.
The ships are designed to replace the Royal Australian Navy's heavy-landing vessel, HMAS Tobruk, and the tender is expected to be awarded late next year.
Defence Minister Robert Hill has commissioned French shipbuilder Armaris and Spanish group IZAR to undertake a preliminary design study for the vessels.
Austal managing director Bob McKinnon said: “We had to announce this arrangement with Raytheon so we could start to price some of the infrastructure and other organisational issues.”
Austal said it would have to find new facilities, possibly outside of Western Australia, and would lobby various state governments for subsidies.
Yet despite the company being commissioned to build the Australian Navy's $450 million worth of patrol boats, there are concerns it lacks the experience in amphibious ships.
After getting burnt expanding into luxury boat building – most notably with Greg Norman's Aussie Rules yacht – Mr McKinnon said the risk in the project was minimal, as Austal would have partners. He said the capital cost would be low because the company would rent facilities to build the vessels.
Austal's partner, Raytheon, is supplying the new electronics systems to Australia's fleet of Collins-class submarines.
Despite citing itself as a potential future bidder for the government-owned Australian Submarine Corp, Austal has ruled itself out of the $6 billion contract to build Australia's new fleet of three air warfare destroyers.
ANZAC frigate builder Tenix has already put its hands up for the destroyer contract and is preparing a bid for the amphibious ship project. But it is understood the Government has ruled out awarding both contracts to the same shipbuilder. So a Tenix win on the destroyer contract could spell good news for Austal.
Austal closed 4c stronger at a two-year high of $1.41.