HMAS Anzac has been taken out of active service indefinitely.

Photo: HMAS Anzac has been pulled out of the water indefinitely amid crippling crew shortages. Picture: Defence

HMAS Anzac, a frontline warship of the navy, has been taken out of active service indefinitely due to severe crew shortages and uncertainties surrounding planned life-extending upgrades for the long-range frigate fleet. The 27-year-old vessel, which underwent a mid-life overhaul just three years ago, is now docked on hard stands at Western Australia’s Henderson shipyard as the government grapples with decisions regarding the future of the surface fleet. This includes potential reductions in the Hunter-class frigate and Arafura-class patrol boat programs.

The inception of the Anzac class originated from the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) initiative to replace the six River-class destroyer escorts with a mid-capability patrol frigate. Initially, the Australian shipbuilding industry was deemed incapable of warship design, prompting the RAN to adopt a proven foreign design and modify it. Collaboration with the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) began in 1987, resulting in the order of eight ships by Australia and two by New Zealand.

Despite each Anzac-class ship requiring 179 personnel to operate, a shortage of crew members in crucial roles has made it nearly impossible to maintain all vessels in service. The government’s initial plan to upgrade all eight Anzacs to extend their operational life into the 2030s is now under scrutiny due to concerns at the highest levels about the value of such overhauls. The Defence spokeswoman stated that HMAS Anzac entered a “period of planned maintenance” on November 6 after returning from operations, but the vessel’s return to the water remains uncertain.

Sources within the Defence community indicate that the navy would need “extended notice” to deploy the ship, and there are discussions within the government about potentially mothballing the vessel to allocate crew to other Anzac frigates. The shortage of key personnel, particularly in the engineering department, poses significant challenges, and one unfilled position can prevent a ship from deploying.

There are concerns that it could take the navy years to recover sufficient crew numbers to operate the entire Anzac fleet. As a result, HMAS Anzac, and possibly other ships like HMAS Arunta and HMAS Parramatta, may be excluded from the planned upgrades. This situation echoes a past incident where HMAS Perth was out of service for four years due to crew shortages, returning to the water only in 2021.

Strategic Analysis Australia director Peter Jennings warns that the navy is losing capability, citing the Hobart-class guided missile destroyers as the only modern ships in the fleet. He expresses concern over the government’s reluctance to allocate more funds and calls for new leadership and decisive decision-making at the government level.

The government is expected to announce the results of its surface fleet review early next year, with potential reductions in the Hunter-class frigate order and reconsideration of the Arafura-class offshore patrol vessel program. The ongoing crewing challenges are part of a broader Defence workforce crisis, with uniformed personnel numbers falling short of targets.

The third-of-class Anzac frigate, HMAS Warramunga, is scheduled to be the first to undergo overhaul work starting in mid-2024. So far, the government has allocated $631 million over five years to fund the upgrade of three vessels.


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