Austal is an Australian shipbuilder involved in the design, construction and support of commercial and defence vessels. From corporate headquarters at Henderson in Western Australia it manages an impressive worldwide industrial organization with about 5,500 employees. The information in this article has been sourced from commercially available information.
Austal is an Australian-based global shipbuilding company and defence prime contractor that specialises in the design, construction and support of commercial and defence vessels. The product range includes naval vessels, high-speed passenger and vehicle ferries, specialist utility craft such as required for offshore wind farms, and crew transfer vessels.
Austal has three major shipbuilding facilities. Defence vessels are designed and constructed in Henderson, Western Australia and Mobile, Alabama. Commercial vessels are constructed in Balamban in the Philippines. New facilities are ramping up in Viet Nam and through a joint partnership in China. Support is provided through service centres located in Darwin, Cairns and Henderson in Australia; San Diego, California; Balamban, and Muscat in Oman. Corporate headquarters are co-located with the Henderson shipbuilding facility.
As of 2018, Austal has designed and constructed over 300 vessels for numerous defence forces and commercial fleet operators. Customers include the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, Condor Ferries, Mols Linien of Denmark, the Royal Australian Navy, the Royal Navy of Oman and the United States Navy.
Austal commenced operations in Perth, Western Australia in 1988. Today, it is a recognized world leader in the design and construction of customised commercial and defence vessels. The company proudly lists many of the world’s leading navies and defence forces and major ferry operators as valued clients.From modern shipyards located in Western Australia, the United States of America and the Philippines, Austal has delivered and continues to safely construct vessels for operators around the world. The extensive product range includes passenger and vehicle-passenger ferries, patrol boats, high speed support vessels, surface combatant and revolutionary, multi-role vessels. The company is an established provider of worldwide vessel maintenance and management services. Austal also designs, installs, integrates and maintains sophisticated vessel command and control systems, communications and radar systems and information management systems, such as MARINELINK and Ride Control.
Since listing on the Australian Stock Exchange in December 1998, Austal has diversified and strengthened its product base through the strategic acquisition of a number of shipbuilding and information technology companies. With a focus on research and development of emerging maritime technologies and cutting edge ship designs, Austal has led the industry in the development of innovative commercial and defence vessel platforms.
Austal established a shipyard in Mobile, Alabama in late 1999, and is now one of the largest employers in Mobile, as the centre of manufacturing for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and Expeditionary Fast Transport (EFT) programs for the US Navy. In 2011, Austal acquired a major commercial ship-building facility at Balamban on the island of Cebu in the Philippines to construct high speed passenger and vehicle carrying ferries, offshore crew transfer and wind-farm vessels.
In addition to shipbuilding operations, Austal also provides vessel maintenance and support services from facilities in the United States, Australia and the Middle East, along with a network of partner service providers located throughout the world.
Defence vessels designed and built by Austal include revolutionary, multi-mission surface warfare combatants, such as the Littoral Combat Ship for the United States Navy, military high speed support vessels for transport and humanitarian relief, such as the Expeditionary Fast Transport (EFT) for the United States Navy and the High Speed Support Vessel (HSSV) for the Royal Navy of Oman.
Austal also designs, constructs, integrates and maintains an extensive range of patrol boats for a number of government law enforcement and border protection agencies globally, including the Cape Class Patrol Boat for the Australian Customs and Border Protection Serviceand the Royal Australian Navy.
Austal’s innovative, market leading monohull, catamaran and trimaran designs, expertise in the construction of high performance aluminium vessels, and ability to customise proven commercial platforms continue to be sought after by the world’s leading maritime public transport operators. The company’s commercial vessel portfolio ranges in length from 24 metres to 127 metres.
Support and Service Centres
Throughout its regional operations Austal maintains a network of service centres in strategic locations around the world, offering local support to both commercial and defence fleet operators. In addition, each centre offers an industry-leading suite of through-life capability management services. The global network of expert maritime engineers and technicians are available 24/7 to support operators, wherever they may be located.
There are three Austal service centres located throughout Australia, in Darwin in the Northern Territory, Cairns in Queensland, and Henderson in Western Australia.
Darwin Service Centre
The Darwin service centre is located in the Darwin port precinct of the Northern Territory’s capital city. The local engineering team provides through-life capability management and in-service support to the Armidale Class Patrol Boats and Cape Class Patrol Boats as well as other visiting defence vessels, oil and gas support vessels and other commercial marine assets operating across Northern Australia.
Cairns Service Centre
The Austal service centre in Cairns, Queensland is established in the Portsmith area and provides Through-Life Capability Management (TLCM) and in-service support of marine assets, including the Cape Class Patrol Boat fleet operated by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. This facility will also support the new Guardian Class Pacific Patrol Boats now being delivered into service.
Henderson Service Centre
In Henderson, Western Australia, Austal’s engineering team offers specialist marine engineering and vessel maintenance support services, utilising an extensive (global) Technical Support Network and drawing upon design expertise from Austal’s Henderson Defence Centre in Western Australia.
In July 2018, marking another milestone in the company’s business, Austal USA opened its new West Coast operation in the San Diego, California area. The San Diego Service Centre caters for expanding fleet support business, allowing Austal to provide post-delivery support to LCS, EFT and other vessels on the West Coast. The new facility will employ 200 personnel.
Located in Balamban, Cebu, Austal Philippines provides a range of cost effective, through-life capability management services for both Austal and non-Austal vessels and their operators worldwide. This service is backed by their fully equipped ISO Quality Assured certification for the design and manufacture of aluminium commercial vessels and components.
Austal’s Middle East Service Centre is located in Muscat, Oman and since early 2009 has provided through-life capability management and in-service support to commercial and defence operators throughout the region, including the Royal Omani Coast Guard and the National Ferries Company.
Since 1988 Austal has designed and delivered more than 300 vessels for over 100 clients in 54 countries. The company has grown to become a true global leader in high speed aluminium vessel design and construction and has developed some of the world’s most iconic and impressive ships, such as the Littoral Combat Ship, the Expeditionary Fast Transport and the Auto Express 127 and 102 trimarans.
A key element in Austal’s success has been the ability to deliver customised vessels together with systems and support solutions. This level of service has led to repeat orders from a wide range of customers including the Australian Customs and Border Protection Serviceand the US Navy.
Littoral Combat Ship
In October 2005, Austal/General Dynamicswas awarded a contract to build the first unit from its design for a Littoral Combat Ship. The keel of LCS‑2 USSIndependencewas laid down on 19 January 2006 at Austal USA‘s Mobile, Alabama shipyard.LCS-2 was the first ship built by Austal USA for the US Navyand the first warship constructed in Mobile, Alabama since WWII.
The trimaran design provides a wide beam above the hull supporting a larger flight deck than found on destroyers or cruisers. The trimaran hull also exhibits low drag, allowing efficient operation on two diesel-powered water jets at speeds up to 18 knots, and high speeds using two gas turbines up to 44+ knots.
On 29 December 2010 the US Navy announced a new contract with Austal USA after Austal severed ties with General Dynamics. New contracts for Littoral Combat Ships were awarded to both Austal USA and Lockheed Martin. The contract called for one ship to be built beginning in 2010 (USS Jackson), one to be built in 2011 (USS Montgomery), and two per year from 2012 to 2015.
Expeditionary Fast Transport
In November 2008 Austal was awarded a contract to design and build the US military’snext-generation, high-speed catamaran, the Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport (EFT), which was formerly called the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV). The contract was part of a larger programme potentially worth over US$1.6 billion.
As the prime contractor, Austal designed and constructed the first 103-metre (338 ft) EFT, with options for nine additional vessels to be exercised between 2009 and 2013. Construction on the second ship started in September 2010. By the end of 2010, Austal had contracts for three ships, long-lead material contracts for two ships and options for five further ships, for a total of ten.
The EFT is similar to the Austal-built MV WestPac Express, which the US Marineshad used since 2002. The EFT can carry 635 tonnes(700 short tons), travel 1,200 nm (2,200 km) at an average speed of 35 knots (65 km/h) and is able to unload at roll-on/roll-off discharge facilities. The vessels are 103 m (338 ft) long and have a 28.5 m (94 ft) beam with a crew of 22 to 40.
From this program ten vessels have now been delivered with two more under construction and a further two planned.
Cape Class Patrol Boats
Austal was awarded the contract for the design, construction and through-life support of the CapeClassPatrol Boatsfor the Australian Customs and Border Protection Servicein August 2011. Eight 58 metre (190 ft) aluminium monohulls were delivered between March 2013 and August 2015. On 13 December 2015 Austal entered into a shipbuilding contract with the National Australia Bankto construct two further Cape Class Patrol Boats for a contract value of AU$63 million. The two vessels were delivered in mid-2017 and subsequently chartered to the Commonwealth of Australiafor a minimum term of three years. Austal did a similar off-balance-sheet charter with MV Westpac Express,which was chartered to the US Navy for 13 years.
Armidale Class Patrol Boats
Between June 2005 and February 2008, Austal delivered fourteen 56.8 m (186 ft) ArmidaleClass Patrol Boats to the RAN. All fourteen vessels were constructed at Henderson.The Armidale-class shipsarebased in Cairns and Darwin and primarily tasked with border protection, fisheries patrols, and the interception of unauthorised arrivalsby sea. The ships are multi-crewed, with three ship’s companies available for every two vessels, allowing the patrol boats to spend more time at sea. A fictional Armidale-class boat, HMAS Hammersley, appeared in the Australian military drama series Sea Patrolfrom the second season onwards, with filming occurring aboard multiple ships of the class.
Guardian Class Patrol Boats
The Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement Project is part of the Commonwealth Government’s Pacific Maritime Security Program that aims to enhance practical maritime security across the South Pacific. The program comprises twenty-one 39.5 metre steel hulled vessels designed and constructed by Austal for delivery to thirteen Pacific Island nations: PNG, Fiji, Micronesia, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Palau, Samoa, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Timor Leste.
The all-new Guardian Class is based on Austal’s proven patrol boat design, originally developed for the Australian Customs Service, now the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. Fitted with twin diesel engines, these vessels are capable of 20 knots; at economic speed of 12 knots they have a range of 3000 nm..
P21 Class Patrol Boats
In 2009 the Maritime Squadron of the Armed Forces of Maltaordered four patrol boats from Austal. The new vessels were built to Maltese specifications and were partly financed by the European Union. The first two vessels were launched in October 2009. All four vessels were delivered to Maltain late 2009, and officially commissioned on 18 March 2010.
Yemeni Navy patrol boats
In 2005 Austal delivered ten high-speed patrol boats to the Yemeni Navy, which are hired out commercially to protect private shippers.
In early 2014, Austal announced it had been awarded a US$124.9 million contract for two High Speed Support Vessels (HSSV) for the Royal Navy of Oman. Both were delivered to the Omani Navy by late 2016. The HSSV has a catamaran hull design similar to the US Navy’s Expeditionary Fast Transport.
Commercial and Leisure Vessels
Austal is one of only two companies building fast multi-hull ferries between 60 m (200 ft) and 120 m (390 ft) length. In the early 1990s the ferry industry was transformed with the introduction of large, high-speed catamarans with decks for vehicles. They quickly replaced most hydrofoil and hovercraft services as well as many monohull ferries. The popularity of the new type of multi-hull design led to many shipyards worldwide changing their production to build fast aluminium catamarans. Eventually supply exceeded demand and by the end of the 20th century most builders of large fast catamarans had ceased production. However, Austal and Hobart-based Incatsurvived the late 1990s industry collapse and the two companies continue to compete for orders of large multi-hull ferries of up to 11,000 gross tonswith capacities of over 1,200 passengers and 400 vehicles.
In its FY 2018 financial report, amongst its annual achievements the company highlighted an impressive 17 new ships ordered, 47 ships scheduled or under construction, five ships delivered, and 32 ships under refurbishment from its five shipyards and three service centres.
In August 2018, after posting a near record profit, Austal chief executive, David Singleton, revealed they had walked away from the AU$3.5 billion offshore patrol vessel building project for next generation RAN ships. The company’s bid for the offshore vessels was rejected by the Federal Government in November 2017, but the company was selected to help build the winning design with competitor Civmec and German shipbuilder Luerssen. Austal declined to continue further negotiations on commercial grounds, concerning the level of shareholder risk in such a long-term program. It should be noted that Austal’s profits are largely driven by better than expected growth in US defence contracts, whereas the main Australian yard struggled and posted a small loss.
However, in a challenging market Austral recently provided an update on its company FY 2019 guidance with an increased revenue now expected at approximately $1.9 billion (assuming the USD/AUD exchange rate continues at current level).
The main reasons given were:
- a greater number of Littoral Combat Ships in the USA – two in September 2018 and two in December 2018, which is leading to higher than expected procurement levels in FY 2019.
- better than expected progress in the construction of the previously awarded Littoral Combat Ships.
- earlier than expected receipt of EFT 13 and 14 long lead material contracts.
- greater support and sustainment revenue growth from contracts recently announced in the USA.
- translation of USD revenue in USA, Viet Nam and the Philippines into AUD at a lower USD / AUD exchange rate.
- increased volume in Viet Nam following the completion of the new shipyard at the end of FY 2018 and receipt of a contract for a 94 metre ferry.
- accelerated construction of a commercial vessel in Australia after securing additional leased shipbuilding facilities in Western Australia.
From humble beginnings in the late 1980s as a builder of small aluminium boats through to its current status as an international shipbuilder, and now the world’s largest builder of high speed aluminium craft, Austal has grown to become an Australian success story.
With continued product development and increased productivity, especially from newly acquired South East Asian facilities, the company should continue to prosper.